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.
A good friend who is a citizen of New Zealand recently asked me that, becoming aware of the growing ‘separatism’ here in the US over our politics. My response to her:
It seems a number of factors have come together to form the ‘perfect storm’ over here, but my personal belief is it’s driven mostly by the systemic corruption that has taken over our government. I understand that corruption has always existed, but big money has now become the primary incentive motivating our elected officials, leaving the business of working for ‘the people’ as a mere footnote, and almost everyone is feeling the effects and is sick of it. And even though we have this common cause, our two-party politics has created this great divide as each side points fingers at the other. The adult skills of listening and compromise have completely been forgotten as the sides get more deeply entrenched. … Even the media has taken sides, with money driving the need for better ratings, and each source pandering to their chosen side of the divide. It’s very frustrating these days to simply figure out what the truth is. … And then there is this recent election, which was more about voting for the lessor of two evils rather than for whom you liked, simply because decent, honest, intelligent people don’t want to get involved in our corrupt politics, so they don’t run for office. Thus, our choice was, 1. the same old corrupt establishment that was Hillary, or 2. the narcissist billionaire who promised to stop the corruption by ‘draining the swamp’. The promise of change won out, but that change may be more than we bargained for. All this craziness has awoken even those who never paid attention to politics before, and they find themselves caught between wanting to do their patriotic duty by voicing their opinion and staying quiet so as not to alienate friends and family who have differing perspectives. As they say, it is history in the making.
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.
Lately it feels like my head is going to explode, trying to make sense of this sideshow that is our current presidential race. The egomaniac has TERRIFIC plans for everything but has no details. Trust him. The socialist will provide all of our constitutional rights for free by just taking money from the rich. Don’t worry that those same rich control this oligarchy. The radical right promises to whisk us back to the good times, when goodness was measured only through the eyes of God-fearing white men. And the most experienced candidate -a woman – smiles on top and paddles like hell underneath so the truth of her past doesn’t reach the surface. Ultimately it appears yet another voting choice will be driven by the lesser of evils, because decent, qualified people don’t want the job. Ugh. It must be quite the spectacle for the rest of the world.
While some of us yearn for the miraculous appearance of a rational, experienced moderate to vote for – and we honestly don’t care from which party – the rest have crowded onto their chosen side of the great chasm that currently defines US politics and are throwing rocks and spears across the void. It’s been quite a while since we’ve seen such a divisive America, where strong opinions have become the norm, with more and more people moving further to the extremes of the parties. I think this is why I can’t make sense of it all. There is no real discussion of ideas. There are just false promises, accusations, and lots of mudslinging. The land of the moderate, where compromise exists and people actually discuss, has become a barren, lonely place. Why is this?
My guess is it began with the well-meaning political correctness movement in the late ’80s when we started losing the ability to have meaningful, civil discourse with each other. You know, that ancient art of listening and sharing of ideas. Instead, now afraid we might offend someone with our honest thoughts, we cower in the incestual safety of our like-minded friends and media sources, reinforcing our opinions with one-sided, circular arguments. The closest we get to discourse, if you can call it that, is the online sharing of unverified, typically false, social medium memes which bolster the opinions of our side. That way we don’t have to entertain an opposing concept. No wonder the void is so large.
We can only hope that someday we start reclaiming that lost art of verbal intercourse. When college students can once again discuss controversial ideas late at night without fear of suspension by the school’s Orwellian 1984-esque PC squad. When tactfully stated, well-meaning concepts are graciously accepted for consideration. When an open mind holds more political weight than a thin skin. Then, maybe, we can begin to find that middle ground again, when compromise is a sign of strength rather than weakness.
(Image courtesy of VisitDerry.com)