This morning’s news was consumed by stories about the shooting at the Congressional baseball practice. This was a horrible incident, and my heart goes out to those injured. I wish them a speedy recovery.
I am both shocked and saddened, but there really is no surprise. An angry despair has spread across America. A despair caused not by some external influence, but one from within. Once one of the most respected institutions on Earth, our Congress has devolved into nothing more than a bickering, partisan mess driven by systemic corruption and lack of integrity, with members worried more about campaign contributions than solving the country’s problems. Their approval ratings are at historic lows.
This is being felt internationally as well. A friend in Germany recently said to me, “… there is some sort of vacuum where US leadership used to be. And that is a potentially dangerous situation. … the new star is China. [The US has] handed world leadership to them on a platter. And they gratefully accept since they anyhow see these last few hundred years as a fluke. Otherwise China always has been the greatest nation in the world. So that’s where we’ll all have to look in the future.”
I believe incidents like yesterday’s shooting are driven by a sense of hopelessness, a feeling that we can’t fix this. A lack of hope causes people to either give up or it drives them to extreme actions. We are seeing both. Initial reports of the shooter indicate he was emotionally distraught, in part due to this governmental chaos and associated divisive rhetoric.
As expected, we are already hearing about how to provide better security for members of Congress, including increased police and Secret Service details. It seems to me, however, the best security would be obtained simply by Congress cleaning up their mess. Maybe by becoming respectable again, by eliminating the corruption, stopping the petty politics, and getting back to actually working for America (and setting a good example for the world) fewer people would be compelled to violence through desperation. And just think of the problems we could solve.
It appears the decades-long political apathy that has existed in the U.S. may be at an end. That apathy which has allowed our government to reach systemic corruption, with our representatives filling their own pockets – unchecked – with little regard for the desires of their constituents. Americans have finally gotten fed-up with it all. Not since the Vietnam War have I seen so many people actively concerned about the state of our politics. And it is certainly not a bad thing, since a democracy, after all, is a government by its people.
But ‘waking up’ has come with a price. Too many years of not paying attention – whether due to job focus, lack of interest, or simply not wanting to offend – have eroded our skills in civil discourse and thinned our skins. It has reached the point where healthy debate over political things that matter quickly devolve into unproductive arguments, name-calling, and strained relationships. This has been magnified by the impersonal aspects of social media, where a person can sit behind the shield of their computer and say things they would not typically say directly to someone’s face. This situation is made even worse by the explosion of ‘fake news’, causing people to fight over things that simply aren’t true.
I feel it myself and worry how many of my friends and family have had enough of my thoughts. Probably more than I want to know. Where is the right balance between being an educated, involved citizen and not driving those around us completely nuts? I have tried to read differing, well thought-out perspectives and the debates that ensue, and sometimes add my own opinion. I think it helps. These are the debates that will hopefully bubble up to hold our elected representatives accountable and drive them to find the compromises that serves us best. But the number of those debates and the ugly confrontations that frequently result are becoming too much for most of us these days, myself included.
We need to find a balance between staying silent and speaking out that allows each of us to remain part of a healthy, respectful discourse while not turning us into enemies. Because it is the discourse that is needed to fan the flames of our re-awakening and let those we elected know their party is over. We have learned that apathy doesn’t work.
I’ve wrestled for a while now with the Ed Snowden situation, trying to decide whether I think he is a patriot or a traitor. I’ve waited patiently for much of the hysteria to dissipate and watched Brian Williams’ recent interview with Snowden very intently. Prior to the interview I was leaning toward the patriot side and the interview only strengthened that view.
I like to think I’m a half-decent judge of character, and I find Snowden to be very intelligent and genuine, and I believe he was doing what he thought was the right thing for his country by helping to rein in some of the current over-reaching abuse of our government’s power. Did he break the law and the vow he took to protect the secrets afforded by his security clearance? Absolutely. But I reached the conclusion long ago that principles are more important than a strict adherence to laws, and that feeling has been solidified as I watch our legally corrupt US government pass laws allowing them to get rich off corporate lobbyists while completely ignoring the desires of their constituents. In addition, I believe our judicial system has gotten so wrapped around the axle with technicalities that it bears very little resemblance to what most reasonable people believe to be a system for deciding simple right and wrong, following basic common sense. Snowden said he feels there is currently a serious lack of respect by our government for the public. Unfortunately I completely agree with him. Many want Ed Snowden to go to jail for what he did. I ask who is going to jail for the illegal activities of the NSA?
Not that long ago Thomas Jefferson said that the strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government. A lot has changed since then and I certainly don’t believe we are anywhere close to a violent revolution in this country, but the sentiment speaks for itself, loud and clear. And if history has taught us one thing, it is that blindly following your government with the expectation they will always keep your best interests front and center is fraught with disaster.
So who is the bigger patriot, the person who breaks the law to reveal unconstitutional government operations, risking personal ruin for what he believes is best for his country, or the lawmaker who ignores his people, making decisions based only on what will make him the most money? And if you don’t think the latter is happening, you’re simply not paying attention.
That’s just my opinion. I think we still have freedom of speech.