Wednesday, February 17, 2016

When It's NOT a Matter Of Good vs Evil

What an intensely ugly weekend we endured this past week.  The hideous presidential campaign was interrupted by one of the very few things on earth that could incite rhetoric even uglier than that to which we have been subjected since the first hopeless presidential hopefuls declared their candidacies last year:  the sudden death of a Supreme Court Justice.  I suppose, theoretically, things could have gone two ways at this juncture.  We could have taken a national time-out from the escalating shit-throwing contest of the presidential campaign...could have paused for a few days, at least until the man was in his grave, out of respect for the man and reverence for his position.  

But...seriously?  Of course, that couldn't happen.  Respect and reverence are two words which no longer have any kind of meaning in our society.  We couldn't be expected to waste even a few days of opportunity to trash, bad-mouth and inflame the "other side."  No..not even one day.  Not even eight hours.  The temptation to pile ugliness on to ugliness, accusation upon accusation, hatred upon hatred, was just too great.  Within hours of news of his death, Antonin Scalia and the concept of his replacement had been grabbed up and used as a cudgel by those at both ends of the political spectrum.  So much for reverence or respect. 

In the midst of all the blood and spit and poison and horror filling the airwaves, this article sneaked on to my Facebook feed, like a slight puff of cool breeze:

Antonin Scalia was not evil.  He was not the devil.  He was a learned jurist who had strong beliefs, the tools to clearly and concisely present those beliefs, and a platform from which he could use them to influence the course of a nation.  His colleagues--both those who embraced similar ideology, and those who didn't-- possess that which the general public (and unfortunately, the great, bumbling beast that is the 21st-century American Press) lack--the grounding in ideas and abstracts that allows them the grace to oppose a man's opinions without de-humanizing the man.

Ideological differences are going to occur in a nation as geographically large and culturally diverse as ours.  For two hundred years, we endeavored to celebrate those differences, to craft them into a yin and yang, give and take relationship that would help our nation become the stronger for the diversity. It was a hard road, strewn with pitfalls and dead ends; but each time we stayed the course and fused a tangle of loose ends into a coherent and just policy, we rose.  And we shone.  

Apparently, over the past few decades, we have begun to seek a simpler policy.  For whatever reason, we've devolved into a lazy, spoiled and under-educated people, one which has decided that our former road to glory is, at last, too difficult to navigate.  We don't want to look for common ground, we want OUR way.  We don't want to solve problems, we want to scream about them.  We don't want to work with those whose ideas differ from ours, we want to destroy them.  

What has changed?  What has turned us into a nation of savages more attracted to ripping out each other's throats than attempting to live peacefully as a diverse community?  Is it our schools?  Has our educational system deteriorated so greatly in the past forty years that we no longer emerge from the classroom with a grasp of the concepts we need to hold our beautiful hodge-podge of cultural diversity together in a society that honors all its roots?  A people with a proper base in a solid education will argue the worthiness of ideas, not of those who hold them.  Without that grounding, we demonize each other.  Anyone whose life view differs from ours--a neighbor, a schoolmate,  a preacher, a legislator, a judge, the president--becomes 'the enemy,' to be viciously attacked at any and every opportunity.  We disagree, but haven't the intellectual tools with which to coherently express our own values, much less to understand and honor the values of others.  So we just...hate on each other.  Loudly, and with as much violence and venom as we can muster.  Is this not just the chicken's--and the fool's--way out?

Or perhaps it is the media--those forms of mass communication that have expanded so rapidly in the past forty years that they have far out-distanced both our understanding of their function and our ability to harness them for good--which have led us to this place of hatred and ugliness.    

Thousands of channels of airwaves wait--need--to be filled, 24/7, with something...preferably something that will cause viewers/listeners to choose one over all the others...  And so we have filled them.  With garbage:  Fear.  Hatred.  Contention.  Sarcasm.  Bullying.  Violence.  Ugliness.  And, most recently, an anonymous forum from which anyone with a grudge and an electronic device can spew the most repulsive droppings from the bottom of his soul.  Apparently, the well of good and positive things to send out there into the general airwaves ran dry a long time ago.  And, in a clear demonstration of why it is that mankind needs rules and structure in order to remain civilized...ugliness sells.

I can't be the only human being in the world that is sick to death of this constant conflict we have inflicted upon ourselves.  I can't be the only person who needs peace, craves calm, pines for clarity and level heads.

And am I the only one who wonders exactly who it is that continues to shovel from the apparently bottomless pile of fuel into this hell in which we find ourselves?  And why?      

Friday, February 12, 2016

On The Presidential Race (Not the last post on this subject, I'm sure...)

 I have been thinking about all this hyper-hoopla surrounding the 2016 presidential race...particularly about those lining up behind Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump—the darlings of the far-left and the far-right.

It's all well and good to get out there every four years and hop up and down for the candidate you believe is going to produce the change you want.  But if, once elected, your Chosen One is unable to produce that change, you'll turn on him/her like a snake. Just look at what the more hard-line progressives have done to Obama. THEY very nearly cost him his second term.

But here's the reality, folks. The president can do very little on his/her own. With Congress, the Supreme Court and general pop culture as screwed up as it is in this country, it's madness to expect one person, president or not, to be able to make enough of a difference to effect any real change. Frankly, what progressives will be voting for this November is a place holder: Someone who, through vetoes and executive orders, can keep further damage from being done by the moneyed interests that currently control the country, until the people wake up and use their franchise to build a framework upon which a progressive Executive can build.    

The single most important task facing the new chief executive—in the direction of cleaning up the conservative mess that’s taken four decades to create, and advancing a progressive agenda-- will be the appointment of Supreme Court justices, four of whom will be of retirement age during this president's tenure.  And even that will be a monumentally difficult task, given the existence of a Congress more willing to stall or destroy the government than to acquiesce to the wishes of an “enemy” chief executive.  Compromise?  Cooperation?  Those words have been stricken from the legislative language.  It is our job, our duty, to rebuild a Congress more willing to govern than to win. 

We can't continue to wake up every four years and rattle our cages during the presidential election. We have to do the grassroots groundwork of taking over local and state offices, and work on changing the composition of Congress.  It’s vital that Congress be made to function again; otherwise, our Great Experiment--government of the people, by the people, for the people--will fail.  It WILL perish from this earth.

So why are we wasting so much breath, ink, film, and ether tearing each other—and the hapless presidential candidates—into tiny, ineffective shreds?  Why…when the reality is, that one person will not be able to get us what we profess to want? 

Why are we not (wo)manning up and taking long-term, boots-on-the-ground responsibility for what we want our nation to become?  Every election, from dog-catcher to mayor to governor to US House and Senate?  It’s taken decades of patient, nose-to-the-grindstone work, both publicly and behind the scenes, to drag the US to the disastrously hate-filled, heavily-armed and xenophobic (not to mention oligarchic) place we are in.  Those invested in bleeding us dry of every penny they can get away with have learned how to shake disasters—real or imagined—in  our faces, to keep us distracted while they have perverted the structure of the government to funnel as much plunder as possible in their direction.  They toil at this 24/7/365…never resting, never going backward; with each passing day adding more millions to their war chests, becoming stronger and stronger. 

We cannot expect to fight that if we can only rouse ourselves to political activism once every four years.  And if that is the path we choose, if we think our duty is done one year out of every four when we cast our votes in the direction of the next Progressive Messiah--and it seems only a little more than 50% of us can manage that much-- then we deserve the country we get.