This American Retake group now has just under 300 members. All of us share a similar political orientation, we are interested in “retaking America” from Trump and the Republicans, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. This is evident from the myriad anti-Trump, anti-Republican postings we see on this site.

But, how to do that? I think most, if not all, of us think some kind of electoral pushback needs to be done, perhaps especially oriented toward the upcoming 2018 mid-term elections. At that time all of the members of the House of Representatives and one-third of the Senators will be up for election. While many of us will, no doubt, be actively involved in the campaigns of that election season, it’s difficult to see how we could do so as a unified group.

I believe this group began with a concentration of activists in the Pittsburgh region. Since then, however, we have become not only a national, but also an international group. Just to my personal knowledge, we have members from coast-to-coast, from California to Pennsylvania and beyond. However, I know that we also have members in Latin America, and perhaps elsewhere internationally.

Given such geographic dispersal, it’s difficult to see how we could act as a unified group in a particular geographic region, either electorally or as participants in rallies or demonstrations.

But, we have a major asset in that we are a social media group with a common political purpose, taking back America. Because we have that common purpose, we can act in a unified, instead of a scattered, direction to do that. (This, in fact, is a major tenet of guerrilla warfare: Concentration of meager forces toward a single point in order to multiply the impact of those forces.)

And, because we are using social media, we no doubt are all part of a larger social media network of friends and contacts. This is our great advantage. Say we all have about 100 friends and contacts in our personal networks. (Perhaps those of us who are particularly active have more.) If we multiply our 300 members by 100 we thus form a dense network of 30,000 contacts, from coast to coast, and beyond. In turn, those 30,000 contacts have their own, further, contacts. This is a huge multiplier of our potential reach. If all of us were pushing on the same agenda of a certain number of items with our contacts, whether of actions or ideas and arguments, we could have an enormous reach, and potentially a real and effective political impact.

So far, most of the activity on this site has been the posting of political news stories reinforcing views we already hold. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s preaching to the choir. If we didn’t share a similar political outlook, we wouldn’t be here. Thus, we’re not making any new converts, nor are we having any unified impact in the real world.

But, if we began to discuss the various issues facing us, as a nation, and could come to some kind of agreement on some of the more important ones on which to focus our online activity, we could begin to have an impact in the real world. Perhaps, if nothing else, we could begin to shape public discussion so that it focuses more on what we think are the important ideas and issues and what needs to be done about them.

So, I modestly propose that we, as a group, begin discussing what we think are the most important political issues, then come to some decisions about what kind of positions or actions we can advocate around these issues as a unified voice with a potentially very large reach. We may not be able to work together on the same political candidates or attend the same rallies or demonstrations, but we can begin to act as a unified voice to advocate our views about what needs to be done to retake America in the hard times to come. In unity there is strength, for our ideas and our positions.


The Dual Nature of Populism

The Dual Nature of Populism

In my previous discussion of John Locke’s ideas on republicanism I said that his political philosophy is the basis of populism. Since Donald Trump’s electoral victory, populism has suffered a lot of abuse at the hands of political pundits and Sunday morning talk show hosts. A prominent critic has been Fareed Zakaria, a “Washington Post” columnist and sometime essayist for TIME. Zakaria’s most visible current attack on populism is an article titled, “Populism on the March: Why the West is in Trouble,” in the November-December, 2016, issue of “Foreign Affairs.”

This fear and distrust of populism among the elites has a long history, going back at the very least to the 1950s, when liberal intellectuals decried the demagoguery of Senator Joseph McCarthy. What all these media commentators seemingly fail to understand with their trash talk against populism is that populism is not a strange aberration of democracy that rears its ugly head during times of crisis.

Broadly speaking, populism is the belief that the will of the people should prevail over the will of privileged elites. Thus, populism is the concept of democracy itself, and elite fears of populism are actually fears of democracy. This fear of democracy has a tradition in this country that goes back to our founding as a nation when the Founders wrote the Constitution to curtail what they saw as the dangers of too much democracy.

Nor is populism the monolithic philosophy these commentators portray. It can be manifested as what might be called “Right Populism,” as exemplified by Donald Trump, and is the version of populism these pundits fear and decry.

But it can also be manifested as “Left Populism,” as exemplified by Bernie Sanders. Both versions are powerful. In the primaries, Donald Trump garnered 13.3 million votes with his version of Right Populism. But Bernie Sanders garnered almost as many votes, 13 million, with his version of a Left Populism that promised “A Future To Believe In,” and he won 22 states, including states that Hillary Clinton lost in the general election, such as Indiana, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

Left Populism is a protest tradition, one that champions the common people against the rich and powerful, that has always been America’s dominant ideology of dissent.

Most American radicals, including working class radicals, have commonly thought of themselves as “the people ” instead of “the workers,” even though they may have been of the working class. Given the dominance of Left Populism in American protest thought, it should surprise no one that the all-time best-selling history of American radicalism, with well over one million copies in print, celebrates America’s Left Populist heritage. It is, of course, Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.”

Before the radical upsurge of the 1960s, the other great period of twentieth century protest was the 1930s. Despite what the Left might wish to believe about the legendary labor upheavals of the 1930s, it was Left Populism, not some variant of Marxism, that mobilized “the workers” in that earlier period of radicalism. Indeed, the labor struggles of the Thirties were part of a wider Left Populist movement at that time for inclusion of the downtrodden in the American Dream. This is why they rallied to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and made the Democratic Party the majority party in the New Deal Era. Journalist Bill Moyers recalls that FDR seemed to be the champion of all the “Forgotten Men” who were “Lost in America,” the entire dispossessed and tossed aside.

Bill Moyers was raised a Baptist in East Texas where his father had left school after the fourth grade to begin life as a cotton picker. His father bought a radio with his meager savings just so he could listen to FDR, “the aristocrat speaking up for common people,” during his “Fireside Chats.” And the message of FDR and his New Deal, said Moyers, the message his father heard coming over that radio in the East Texas cotton fields was this: “Class and power were not fixed by Nature; inequality was wrong and unemployment humiliating; runaway capitalism could be tamed, privilege checked, monopolies broken up, an end put to government by organized money. To people down and out, broken and feeling betrayed, Roosevelt talked of democracy. He made them think they had a stake in it and a responsibility for it.”

The common people Moyers spoke of embodied a down-to-earth, blue collar, multi-ethnic, populist ideal we find elsewhere in popular culture during the Thirties. This ideal is found, for instance, in the thousands of photos taken by the photographers sent out across America by the Farm Security Administration (FSA).

From 1935 to 1943 Roy Stryker directed a team of some twenty FSA photographers who produced over 270,000 pictures of America’s “common people.” Stryker’s photographers took some of the iconic images we have of the Great Depression, such as Dorothea Lange’s Okie Madonna, broken down somewhere in a California farm field with her children hanging on her.

The reason these photos are so populist is because Roy Stryker deliberately sought pictures of “the common people,” the hard working survivors who built America. “I think it’s significant,” Stryker later said, “that in our entire collection we have only one picture of Franklin Roosevelt, the most newsworthy man of the era — this, mind you, in a collection that’s sometimes said to have reported the feel and smell and taste of the Thirties even more vividly than the news media…. you’ll find no record of big people or big events in the collection…. not a single shot of Wall Street, and absolutely no celebrities.”

This ideal was in the air. In 1936, in what he termed his own favorite poem, Carl Sandburg celebrated “The People, Yes!” In 1941, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Stephen Vincent Benet urged us to “Listen To The People.” These people included, “Paul Bunchick and the Greek who runs the Greek’s/ The black-eyed children out of Sicily/ All of them there and all of them a nation. / Our voice is not one voice, but many voices. / Not one man’s, not the greatest, but the people’s.”

In 1942 Aaron Copeland wrote a hymn of praise to “the common man” in his “Lincoln Portrait,” the most stirring portion of which is his triumphant beginning, the “Fanfare for the Common Man.” Copeland has a reader quote passages from Abraham Lincoln to the accompaniment of stirring music, passages such as “The spirit of slavery is the same as the spirit that says, ‘You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.’ No matter in what shape it comes, whether from a mouth of a king, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.”

This was a theme also commonly expressed by radical labor unions in the Thirties, such as the Independent Textile Union of Rhode Island, which had approvingly published the very same Lincoln passage five years before in a 1937 issue of its newspaper.

But perhaps the musical genre that most closely reflected the spirit of the times was folk music. Americans have long composed and sung “traditional” songs such as cowboy laments, Delta blues, Kentucky bluegrass, and the hillbilly songs of Appalachia, with their roots in Elizabethan and Scots-Irish ballads. It was not until the twentieth century, however, that such songs came to be identified as “folk songs” of “the people,” a populist musical genre that cohered in the 1930s.

And it is no accident that the music we most closely identify with the Thirties is folk music, a genre which describes the lives, loves, and labors of the common people. It is also no accident, then, that the two periods that witnessed the proliferation of folk songs, the Thirties and the Sixties, were also the only two eras of the twentieth century that witnessed the emergence and flowering of significant populist and oppositional countercultures.

Even the obdurate Communist Party eventually adopted the Left Populism of the times with its 1935 “Popular Front” strategy. That year the party changed its official slogan to, “Communism is Twentieth Century Americanism.”

Meanwhile, the volunteers it sent to fight in Spain against the fascists in that country’s civil war did so as members of “The Abraham Lincoln Brigade.”

At the same time, the Communist-affiliated Composers Collective began including in its Workers Song Books indigenous folk music of all types, including songs of farmers, miners, urban workers, and African-Americans – songs of “the people.” It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the Communist Party reached its most influence and its highest membership levels during this Popular Front period when it promoted Left Populism.

The most influential folk singer of the Thirties was no doubt Woody Guthrie. He was born into an impoverished Oklahoma dust bowl family and was closely associated with the Communist Party. Guthrie composed more than a thousand songs reflecting the decade’s spirit of Left Populist protest. Perhaps his most well known song is “This Land is Your Land,” which declared, “this land belongs to you and me,” not, it suggested, to the rich and the corporations.

In 1941 Guthrie joined Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, and others to form the Almanac Singers, a popular folk group that sang for C.I.O. (Congress of Industrial Organizations) organizing campaigns and political rallies. After World War II, as America became more politically conservative, Guthrie, Seeger, and other members of the Almanac Singers kept the Left Populist spirit of folk music alive through such groups as People’s Songs. It was at a meeting of the People’s Songs Board of Directors that Pete Seeger and Lee Hays wrote “If I Had a Hammer,” which gained widespread popularity in the early Sixties after the folk trio of Peter, Paul, and Mary made it a hit. In the song, Seeger and Hays proclaimed that they would hammer out justice and freedom “all over this land.”

This Left Populist theme was also echoed in the films of Italian director Frank Capra, perhaps the most popular and successful film director of the 1930s, responsible for such films as “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” and “Meet John Doe”. Born in Sicily in 1897, Capra immigrated to Los Angeles with his parents in 1903. When America entered World War I, he joined the army. After the Armistice, Capra returned to Los Angeles, but was unable to find a job. He bummed around for several years, working at odd jobs, ending up down and out in San Francisco.

It was during those days that Capra came to believe that, “The rich have it all, but accomplish little.” The essence of Frank Capra’s Left Populism, reflected in his subsequent films, was that it was the decent, hard-working, “little guy” who really represented all that was most American — while the wealthy and the representatives of the powerful represented a venal corruption of the American ideal.

This struggle for more democracy – for more government of the people, by the people, and for the people, in the words of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg – is, and always has been, the central conflict of American politics. Yes, right-wing demagogues, such as Donald Trump, can hijack this struggle and pervert it into something to fear. But it is also our only hope for “A Future To Believe In.”

Sit down, ladies…


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Things are pretty dire for the Democratic Party. One could drive from Miami, Florida, to Coeur d’Aline, Idaho, near the Canadian border, and never cross a state that went Democratic (or, even, see many Hillary signs.)
But, it’s not just at the presidential level that the party is in trouble. Since Obama was elected in 2008, the party has lost 16 U. S. Senators. Double that in U. S. Representatives. Only five of the 50 states have Democratic governors coupled with Democrat-controlled legislatures. Indeed, and here is something shocking, there are *fewer* elected Democratic office holders at the state level now than at any time since 1900!
The Democratic Party needs a new ideology other than the neo-liberalism that has dominated it ever since the Clintons gained control of it 25-years ago. It needs to begin speaking to and for those it has ignored for so long, and who have now turned against it. They will need us during the coming Trump years. (While, of course, continuing to champion the rights of its present constituencies.) That is the political task before us.
Here’s the electoral map showing Red State America, the nation’s heartland. It shows that Hillary has 232 Electoral College votes, with Trump at 306. It’s a dire warning for us all: http://www.270towin.com

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Rallies & Demos

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Rallies & Demos


“When the Left gets angry, it marches. When the Right gets angry, it votes.” — ex-Mass. Dem. Rep. Barney Frank.


And guess what? Voting is more powerful. I’ve nothing against street demos, per se. They can be a useful *part* of a larger, necessarily electoral, strategy for political change. This was the case, e.g., with the Civil Rights Movement, which was comprised of marches and similar actions (Selma to Montgomery, sit-ins, etc.),  legal challenges (Brown vs. Bd. of Education), and, finally, political legislation (Civil Rights Act of 1964, Voting Rights Act of 1965). But too often the Left is so enamored of marches that it consumes energies entirely, to the detriment of accomplishing legislative change.


Yes, marches are great morale boosters. They’re dramatically visual and it’s great to be surrounded by people who agree with you. But, contrary to the favorite Leftie chant of the last few years, this is *not* what democracy looks like. This is what the *failure* of democracy looks like. It’s feel-good activity, but, by itself, it won’t change things. The Left does it as a substitute for effecting democratic change.


What will change things? In a democracy, the way you actually change things is by voting. That’s how you put people in power who will pass the legislation you want.


I’m as angry as anyone at the “election” (via the Electoral College) of Donald Trump. But the myriad “Not My President” street protests following the election accomplished nothing but make the participants feel good. Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel went out on the street and interviewed one of the approximately 140 who were arrested in Los Angeles during the post-election street demos. (The kid showed his arrest citation for the camera, so we know he was one of the arrestees.) Kimmel asked why he was in the street action. “It was the least I could do,” the kid answered.


“Did you vote?” Kimmel asked.

“No, I wasn’t registered,” the kid answered. (And why not? I wondered. Actually, the *least* you could do was vote.)


It turns out, according to news reports, he was in the majority of the L.A. street demonstrators. Of the c.140 arrested, 62% had not voted in the election.

OK, this probably didn’t make a difference in hugely Democratic California, but it’s illustrative of an attitude on the Left which may be personally therapeutic, making one feel virtuous to have abstained from voting, or for marching. But, it won’t change anything in the long run.


Again, I’m not against marching and demonstrating. I’ve done my share over the years. I’ve participated in many such street actions.  Indeed, I was myself arrested by the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Dept.) during the so-called “riots” on Sunset Strip back in the day, so I’ve been there, done that.

But, they should not be the be-all and end-all of political action. As Barney Frank pointed out, when the Right gets angry, it votes. So should we. It’s the *least* we can do.

Donald Trump’s phone call to Taiwan president risks China’s wrath – theguardian

Diplomatic experts predict fraught start to US relations with Beijing after president-elect’s conversation with Tsai Ing-wen

Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen
Donald Trump’s conversation with Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen is set to cause diplomatic waves. Photograph: Chiang Ying-ying/AP

The call, first reported by the Taipei Times and later confirmed by the Financial Times, is thought to be the first between the leader of the island and the US president or president-elect since ties between America and Taiwan were severed in 1979, at Beijing’s behest.

The US closed its embassy in Taiwan – a democratically-ruled island which Beijing considers a breakaway province – in the late 1970s following the historic rapprochement between Beijing and Washington that stemmed from Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China.

Trump’s transition team said Tsai, who was elected Tawain’s first female president in January, had congratulated the billionaire tycoon on his recent victory.

“During the discussion they noted the close economic, political, and security ties that exist between Taiwan and the United States,” it said. “President-elect Trump also congratulated President Tsai on becoming president of Taiwan earlier this year.”

Experts said the unanticipated call would infuriate China’s leaders, even before Trump took office. “This is going to make real waves in Beijing,” said Bill Bishop, a veteran China watcher who runs the Sinocism newsletter from Washington DC. “I think we will see quite the reaction from Beijing … this will put relations from day one into a very difficult place.”

Evan Medeiros, the Asia director at the White House national security council, told the Financial Times: “The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic

“Regardless if it was deliberate or accidental, this phone call will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative. With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for US-China relations.”

Bishop said it was hard to know whether the call was the result of a deliberate policy move by Trump or merely an intervention by a member of his staff who was friendly towards Tsai Ing-wen and Taipei.

Trump adviser Peter Navarro, an economics professor, travelled to Taiwan in the first half of this year at the invitation of its ministry of foreign affairs.

In a recent article for Foreign Policy magazine, Navarro said Barack Obama’s treatment of Taiwan had been “egregious”, adding: “This beacon of democracy in Asia is perhaps the most militarily vulnerable US partner anywhere in the world.”

Bishop said Beijing’s immediate reaction would be a “rhetorical explosion” but that the longer-term consequences were altogether more unpredictable.

“If the US starts to change the one China policy, that puts US-China relations into uncharted territory,” he said.

Beijing has been scrambling to understand what a Trump White House might mean for already fraught US-China relations since his election last month, with some predicting an unexpected rapprochement and others a trade war.

On Friday Xi Jinping held a 90-minute meeting with Henry Kissinger, a longstanding go-between for Washington and Beijing, in the Chinese capital to discuss relations between the two countries.

According to Xinhua, China’s official news agency, Xi told Kissinger: “China will work closely with the United States at a new starting point to maintain the smooth transition of ties and stable growth”.

“The two countries should properly handle their different views and divergences in a constructive manner,” Xi reportedly added.

That relationship is likely to be come under sudden and renewed strain in the wake of Trump’s call with Tsai.

“This adds a level of risk to US-China relations that we haven’t seen in a very long time,” said Bishop.

“This is the third rail of US-China relations. For Trump to come in and basically look like he is setting aside decades of US policy towards [China/Taiwan] relations has to be quite worrisome for them. There is a lot of uncertainty about what Trump is going to do.

“It’s unclear who his advisers are, although certainly the ones who have been named have argued over the years for the US to change the relationship we have with Taiwan; to make the US-Taiwan relationship more important and upend the one China policy that we have had in place since the 1970s. So this could set off a lot of alarm bells in Beijing.”




Bernie Sanders is politically astute. He understands the rules of the game. That’s why he ran for president inside the Democratic Party, despite being registered as an Independent. It’s the same reason the Tea Party favorite Ted Cruz ran inside the Republican Party and why the vastly influential Tea Party isn’t an actual third party, but a faction within the Republican Party. As Bernie said when he announced his candidacy for the Democratic presidential nomination, the hurdles for an independent campaign are virtually impossible to overcome.

Those hurdles also explain why the Green Party on the Left and the Libertarian Party on the Right, like all such third parties, will remain exercises in political futility. Despite all the furor they created in the 2016 election, and despite the fact that the candidates of the two major parties had the highest unfavorable ratings in political memory, in fact the two minor parties performed miserably, with the Libertarian Party garnering c. 3% of the vote and the Greens c. 1% of the vote.

The hurdles making third party activity forever futile in the United States have to do with the constitutionally imposed limitations on political representation at both the national and state levels that the politically conservative Founders wrote into the Constitution.

Foremost among those limitations is the apportionment of legislative seats to single member geographic districts and the election within those districts by a “first past the gate” winner-take-all plurality. This means that any political movement or organization that seeks to gain representation in either the House of Representatives or in state legislatures must be able to win an electoral majority within a specific geographical location. A minority showing – which any new insurgent political movement is bound to be – even up to 49.9% of the vote will yield exactly zero political representation. If a minority political movement happens to win a plurality in a three-way race, the two major parties have usually defeated the movement’s candidates in the next election by running a fusion ticket against it.

Thus, anything less than a majority is pointless, and most voters are savvy enough to realize at least this much about our elections. What happened in my own Pittsburgh precinct in the 2016 elections illustrates this. In the April Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders crushed Hillary Clinton by 146 votes to 63. In the November general election, however, it’s clear Bernie’s voters voted for Hillary, rather than for the Green Party’s Jill Stein in some kind of futile protest, as Hillary won 365 votes in my precinct to only eight (8) votes for Jill Stein.

A minority showing across many districts is equally futile. Under a parliamentary or proportional representation system, winning five or fifteen percent of the vote would be enough for either representation in office, or at least recognition as a major player. But under our system, such a showing garners no political power and quick oblivion. For example, in 1992 millionaire businessman Ross Perot won 19% of the presidential vote as a third party candidate. Who, today, even remembers Ross Perot?

Likewise, in 1912 the Socialist Party won six percent (6%) of the vote, but elected no one to Congress, and declined continually thereafter into oblivion. On the other hand, a six percent (6%) showing by the Labour Party in the 1910 elections in Great Britain under its parliamentary system gave it 42 seats in Parliament.

These political realities also go a long way toward explaining why the two major American parties have, for a large part, muted class appeals in the interest building a cross-class coalition of voters that will deliver the crucial 50.1% of the vote needed to win 100% of the political power. If you go too far to the Left, as with the Green Party, or too far to the Right, as with Ross Perot’s party or the Libertarian Party, you will loose. Thus, you must straddle the broad middle, and bring enough voters into your Big Tent to win that winner-take-all slim majority.

This also explains the reasonable reluctance of voters to vote for a third party. Any vote for a third party must take votes away from the major party closest to the third party ideologically, thus becoming, in effect, a vote for your worst enemy. Ross Perot’s 19% of the vote in 1992 came overwhelmingly from Republican voters, thus guaranteeing Democrat Bill Clinton the election, even though he won only 42% of the vote. The same thing happened again in 1996 when Ross Perot ran once again, pulling votes from the Republican candidate, thus guaranteeing Bill Clinton’s re-election, even though Clinton won only 46% of the vote.

Likewise, in the 2000 presidential election, almost 100,000 Florida voters voted for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. George W. Bush, the Republican candidate, ended up (supposedly) winning Florida by 137 votes. He thus won 100% of Florida’s electoral college votes and, therefore, the presidency. If even one percent (1,000) of Green Party voters had voted for the Democratic candidate instead, Al Gore would have won Florida in a relative landslide and been elected president. (And we never would have invaded Iraq in 2003.)

Again, in the 2016 election, the Green Party’s Jill Stein won more votes in Wisconsin and Michigan than Republican Donald Trump’s exceedingly slim margin of victory over Hillary Clinton in those states. Had those Green Party voters opted for Clinton over Trump, she would have won both states. The same phenomenon happened in other states. Green Party voters thus helped put their worst enemy, Trump, in the White House.

In American politics, therefore, third parties or politically independent movements that start out small stay small…. Until they fade into oblivion. Thus, America is, and will remain, a two-party system, because those are the rules of the game written into the Constitution by the Founders.

Therefore, any real hope of bringing about political change in America must begin by working within one of the existing two major parties, however flawed they may be, however difficult that may be.

For progressives, that means working within the Democratic Party.



Max Planck changed the world in 1900 with his quantum theory, which is the theoretical foundation of modern physics. Up until then, scientists adhered to the Newtonian idea that the smallest particles of matter must behave like the largest, and so the microscopic world would easily correspond with the macroscopic. Planck’s experiments in light radiation disputed this. Until his experiments, physicists assumed that light was a wave form of energy, like sound.

The results of Planck’s experiments, however, argued that matter and energy at the subatomic level confound the classical laws of mechanics and thermodynamics. His results could only be explained if light emanated not in continuous waves, although it had wavelike properties, but in small bursts of particles, which he called “quanta” (singular “quantum” from the Latin for “how much”). Thus, Planck argued, energy, like matter, is composed of tiny particles. This theory of the nature of light and energy gave rise to the entire field of quantum mechanics, the science of how subatomic particles travel, which came to swiftly dominate the world of physics.

Actually, not all of this is true. In fact, Max Planck did not change the world in 1900 with his quantum theory. This is because most scientists did not immediately accept Planck’s challenge to Sir Isaac Newton’s laws about how the universe worked. It took a while for this paradigm shift in scientific thinking to become the consensus of the field. Indeed, it took a generation, as Planck himself wryly noted in his 1949 memoir, “Scientific Autobiography.” In it he observed, “A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

This observation also helps explain how the world changes in general. It changes not by the conversion of opponents, by the winning of their hearts and minds, but by finding new adherents whose minds aren’t already made up, whose minds are free from the weight of tradition.

Thomas Kuhn, who gave us the phrase and concept of “paradigm shifts” in his influential 1962 book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” agreed with this model of change. If any man can be said to have changed the world, surely it was Nicholas Copernicus, who replaced the geocentric Ptolemaic view of the heavens with a heliocentric view, arguing that the Sun, not the Earth, was at the center of the “Solar” System. And yet, noted Kuhn, “Copernicanism made few converts for almost a century after Copernicus’ death. Newton’s work was not generally accepted, particularly on the Continent, for more than half a century after the ‘Principia’ appeared. Priestly never accepted the oxygen theory, nor Lord Kelvin the electromagnetic theory, and so on.

The difficulties of conversion have often been noted by scientists themselves. Darwin, in a particularly perceptive passage at the end of his ‘Origin of Species,’ wrote, ‘I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalists whose minds are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during a long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine…. But I look with confidence to the future, to young and rising naturalists, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality.’” As Kuhn notes, “These facts and others like them are too commonly known to need further emphasis.”

But the world does not change only through the succession of generations. It also changes by reaching new audiences, those not already committed to an opposing point of view. This was something even Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God, realized. Many Christians sometimes forget that Jesus was born a Jew, lived and taught among Jews, thought of himself as a Jew, and died a Jew. However, he taught that he was a special Jew. He was the Messiah, the long-prophesized Savior of Jewish tradition bringing salvation to the Jewish people.

Unfortunately, those who knew him best, the people of Nazareth, among whom he was born and raised, did not believe this about him. When he returned to his boyhood home to preach, a mob rejected him and drove him away. This moved him to remark bitterly upon how a prophet went unrecognized and unhonored among his own people.

Therefore, he went elsewhere seeking followers, among those not already doubting his destiny. In the Sea of Galilee port village of Magdala he found Mary (the) Magdalene, his most faithful convert, who followed him even to the Cross and the tomb. In the nearby village of Bethsaida, also overlooking the Sea of Galilee, Jesus found more who knew him not, and therefore were receptive to his message. It was in Bethsaida that many testified to the miracles that Jesus was said to have performed. It was in Bethsaida that he healed a blind man and multiplied the loaves and fishes to feed the thousands who came to hear him preach. Many, watching from Bethsaida, saw him walk on the water of Galilee and calm the stormy waters with a word. And it was from among the fishermen of the tiny village of Bethsaida, where people knew him not, that Jesus found five of his most devoted disciples: James, John, Andrew, Philip, and, most devout of all, Peter, “the father of the church.”

This is not to say that hearts and minds are never won. Sometimes dramatic conversions do occur, but perhaps their very rarity is what makes them so memorable. One of the most notable, so much so that it became a metaphor for dramatic conversion, was the transformation Saul of Tarsus underwent on the Road to Damascus. Saul was a Jew born in the Cilician city of Tarsus. He received his final religious education in Jerusalem, where he rose to a position of eminence as a Pharisee, a Jewish sect the New Testament portrays as opposed to Jesus and the early Christian movement. He may also have become a member of the Sanhedrin, the judicial and administrative court responsible for collecting Roman taxes and enforcing Roman laws.

As the followers of Jesus multiplied in Jerusalem following his death, Saul took personal responsibility for exterminating them. But, on the Road to Damascus, Syria, chasing Jewish Christians who had fled there, he experienced a remarkable vision which he compared to the appearance of Jesus to the disciples following his Resurrection. From a persecutor of Christians Saul, who now called himself “Paul”, became their principal champion.

However, the vast majority of his fellow Jews was no more willing to accept Jesus as the Messiah than Paul had been previously. Therefore, Paul took his good news, his “gospel”, outside Israel to the gentiles beyond, to those who had not already made up their minds about Jesus. He established and led many Christian churches in Asia Minor and Greece and the followers of Jesus spread throughout the Roman Empire.

And so the ancient world changed.

In much the same way, America changed in the years of the Great Depression, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal transformed the nation into a more just and compassionate society.

If anything could have changed hearts and minds, surely it would have been the greatest economic collapse this nation has ever faced. However, such was not the case. Roosevelt and the Democrats triumphed during those years of disaster, and Roosevelt won four elections as president, but not because Republican voters began voting Democratic. Indeed, just the opposite happened among Republican voters. They became more numerous than ever. In both Pennsylvania and nationally, for instance, the Republican vote skyrocketed throughout the Thirties. In 1940, when Roosevelt ran for an unprecedented third term, the Republican candidate, Wendell Wilkie, won more votes than any Republican presidential candidate had ever won in American history.

Yet, he still lost to Roosevelt. He lost because, despite the rising Republican vote, the electoral universe had expanded exponentially as new voters, working class voters who had never before voted, flooded to the polls – and voted Democratic in overwhelming numbers. Roosevelt and the Democrats did not change hearts and minds. Rather, they found a new audience for their message, and this new audience carried them to victory.

And so America changed.

This is, then, how the world changes. It does not change by changing people’s hearts and minds, because, for the most part, they do not change. How many arguments with friends have changed their hearts and minds? How many Internet flame wars have changed people’s hearts and minds? Perhaps some. Not many. For the most part, such arguments merely entrench people more firmly in their prior beliefs.

Because this is not how the world is changed. The world is changed by the passage of time, as younger generations come of age in the midst of the debate, and whose minds are not already made up. And the world is changed by finding a new audience and gaining their adherence to your worldview.

So, forget about changing hearts and minds. Find a new audience.

Take your message to the gentiles.