Saturday, October 12, 2013

Where Do We Go From Here?

The state of modern American politics has deteriorated to such a point that there are times where I hear or read something and believe that blood is actually going to begin shooting from my eyes.

Even in trying to sit down and type this piece, deciding where to begin, in what direction to take it, the problems are so many and deep that it almost makes me want to stop and just throw up my hands in surrender.

I have said it myself, and I heard it from someone else this morning: American partisan politics have deteriorated to a state of bitterness, rancor, and stalemate to where our nation has reached a point not seen here since the Civil War era. We are angry as a people. Mad at the politicians, mad at the media, mad at each other.

There are many culprits, and we can blame the politicians and media, the lobbyists and special interest groups, and whomever else we choose. But there is always a bottom line to situations like this, and it has reached a point where we all need to take a look in the mirror and realize that we are a big part of the problem.

We all have basic moral, spiritual, and political values that we have developed over the course of a lifetime based on our own personal experiences. Those internal compasses lead us to make the important decisions in our lives, including decisions at the ballot box. We vote for candidates who we believe best reflect our values, and who we believe will support those values with specific programs and initiatives to further those values.

There is just one problem with our entire line of thinking: it is completely selfish. Let's get simplistic for a moment, because tremendously complex problems such as those we are now facing often require getting down to the basics in order to find some solutions.

We live in "The Village", and we like apples, and we believe that not only are apples good for us, but that they are good for everyone. If more people ate apples, The Village would be a better, happier, more fair place. Not only that, but we think that oranges are horrid, and further, that oranges are at the root of most problems. There seems a simple solution: our tribe grows and eats only apples, and doesn't grow or consume oranges. All of The Village's problems fixed!

But there's a stumbling block. Some of the people in The Village actually believe to their core (pun intended) that apples actually are the root of all evil, and should be minimized, or done away with. These people believe that oranges are excellent, the answer to a better, happier, more fair existence for the tribe. Huh, imagine that. We all live here in The Village. We've all grown up here, been educated here. How did this happen?

Well, in any event, we need to try to fix this problem. Let's get a couple of the brightest, fairest, nicest leaders in the "orangers" and "applers" camp at The Village main table and work it out. So down the leaders sit at the main table. But problems surface early in the talks. Orangers think apples cause all the problems. Applers think oranges cause all the problems. Orangers want no apples grown, or just a small amount. Applers want no oranges grown, or just a small amount.

Ugh. Gridlock. Welcome to modern American politics.

Maybe we applers can just ignore those darned orangers, after all, there are more of us than them. We know that apples are good and oranges are bad. We know it! They are simply wrong. They are, in fact, crazy people for liking and wanting oranges over apples, right? Let's ignore them, do what we want, what we know is right, and the hell with them!

But then someone in our little appler community points something important out: sure, there are more of us than there are of them. But it's pretty darned close. Anything could tip the scales the other way in a hurry. A little disease outbreak on our side of the camp. Maybe a few people move away. Maybe the orangers have more children than we do over the next few years. They begin to outnumber us. What do we do then?

It's happened before in The Village's past, after all, so it likely will happen again. If we ignore them today, they will ignore us tomorrow, and we'll be forced to live in an "orange" world. That would be unacceptable to us. We cannot let it happen. What to do? Where do we go from here?

The answer is as simple for the people of "The Village" as it is for we the people of the United States today: we need to stop being selfish. We need to stop demonizing one another. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as "applers" and "orangers", as "Democrats" and "Republicans", as "Liberals and "Conservatives", and begin to accept that we are all Americans.

You will not think like me. You will not believe all of the same things that I believe. I will not feel all the same ways as you on many issues. That does not make you evil. It does not make me crazy. It simply makes us different. You must get some of the things that you want. I must get some of the things that I want. You will have to give up, or delay, some of the things you want. I will have to give up, or delay, some of the things that I want.

Where do we go from here? It's up to us. It's completely up to the people. Who do you like in politics? Who don't you like in politics? Barack Obama? John Boehner? Harry Reid? Eric Cantor? Nancy Pelosi? Pat Toomey? Bob Casey? Who cares? They are not nearly as important as you are! They only have the power that you give them. Pick up the phone, pick up a pen, tap on your keyboard. Tell all of them, including those on "your side" that you demand compromise for America.

American politics cannot be allowed to continue on as a 'zero sum game', a competition with winners and losers. If we are not all winners in some substantive way, then America is not working properly. That doesn't mean our government gives everyone everything that they want. It means that all of us need to be concerned for and substantively work to ensure the rights of every single American citizen, regardless of Party politics.

Where do we go from here? Every society in the history of the world has been forced to answer that question at one point or another. Every democracy or monarchy, every socialist or communist or religious state. Most of those societies reacted to those points in their history, including right here in America, with civil war or some other bloodshed as the catalyst for movement or change. I pray that our nation can avoid that most inhumane, illogical, deadly of choices this time.

The great American writer and thinker Walter Lippmann believed, and I happen to agree, that a major problem with people's participation in political issues is that they make up their minds before they define the facts, rather than gathering information and analyzing the facts before reaching those conclusions. We need to be more educated ourselves. That is one place that we certainly need to go: inside ourselves, to our own education, and our own moderation of expression until so educated.

If we fail to become more educated, fail to embrace the humanity of our fellow Americans, and continue to allow ourselves to be played as puppets, as Lippmann warned: "The private citizen, beset by partisan appeals for the loan of his public opinion, will soon see, perhaps, that these appeals are not a compliment to his intelligence, but an imposition on his good nature and an insult to his sense of evidence." We are being insulted, and we are insulting one another. Let's begin here, by stopping those things.

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