Monday, November 14, 2016

Whiplash: What Half of America Feels Right Now!

‘“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."
"I don't much care where –"
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go.”’
Lewis Carroll. Alice in Wonderland.

“We are all faced throughout our lives with agonizing decisions. Moral choices. Some are on a grand scale. Most of these choices are on lesser points. But! We define ourselves by the choices we have made. We are in fact the sum total of our choices. Events unfold so unpredictably, so unfairly, human happiness does not seem to have been included in the design of creation. It is only we, with our capacity to love, that give meaning to the indifferent universe. And yet, most human beings seem to have the ability to keep trying, and even to find joy from simple things like their family, their work, and from the hope that future generations might understand more.”
Woody Allen. Crimes and Misdemeanors.
“I say you know it's funny I think we were on the same boat back in 1694.”
Indigo Girls. Shame on You. Shaming of the Sun.

I have been vocal on political topics in my blog in the past so I hope you will forgive me for the addition of these thoughts on the current situation.

I recently called for a rewriting of the US Constitution, call it version 2.0, updated for the modern times we inhabit, free of rules designed for Eighteenth century Agrarian America. Maybe version 1.1 would be more appropriate terminology.

I've also complained bitterly (to Mr. Obama, no less) when I thought the US was enacting xenophobic laws under his watch: HR-158, the so-called “Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015”, a law that allows profiling of our own citizens when crossing the border - based on national origin - if you are from a Middle Eastern country. Never mind that each of the countries in the Middle East is a mishmash of Moslems, Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Atheists, Baha'is, and the adherents of a dozen other belief systems. Never mind that the region encompasses everything from Turks to Arabs to Persians to Armenians to a dozen other ethnicities. We now have a law on our books that legally permits profiling them as they enter the country, coming back from an international trip. Never mind that they have lived in this country for their entire adult lives (or perhaps even born here). Never mind that they are, by and large, hard working tax paying law abiding citizens. How do we end up with such laws on our books?

Replace Middle East with Italy or Ireland or Japan or China or India or any one of a dozen other world regions over the past two hundred years and you are guaranteed to find similar experiences by each of those ethnicities. If they weren't profiled at the border, they were rounded up into internment camps, they were used as indentured labor to build the country's infrastructure (first the one in the physical world and now the one in the virtual world), they were shunned and ostracized as outsiders. But every one of those ethnicities is now broadly accepted in America and has found a way to not just integrate with, but also to change, the culture of America for the better.

The Middle Easterners and Mexicans being vilified and discriminated against today are a resilient bunch. They are already merging with the rest of American society at a faster pace than previous ethnicities. The Japanese had it worse. The Irish had it worse. The Chinese had it worse. The African Americans had it worse. The list goes on. No one said it would be easy. But it’s the only way forward.

But, meanwhile, what has this extreme shift to the right done with American politics? Is it any wonder that the republicans were emboldened by how far they could push partisan politics after passing this bill? Is it any wonder that the same congress bold enough to pass xenophobic laws would have no trouble holding up the nomination of a Supreme Court justice for an entire year? We can complain about Donald Trump all we want, but the problem is bigger than Trump.

So, to all those of you out there that are feeling dazed and confused right now, walking around asking yourselves “What just happened?”, “How did I misunderstand America so much?”, I have only this to offer. I know it feels like half the country just experienced the biggest whiplash of their lives. I know it feels like you were rushing headlong to meet the future only to be brought to a screeching halt by the other half of the country. I know it feels like you were sucker punched. I know you feel like you are following Alice down the rabbit hole. I know you are afraid of a dozen catastrophic scenarios. I am, too, but I think we will be alright.

Many times in the past, we have swung to extremes of left and right. I admit this one is more bizarre than any of the ones in the past but I blame the media and the internet for that. Most of our presidents, including the founding fathers, had sordid personal lives. Yet they managed, by and large, to move us forward as a country. We just didn't have the Internet and Wikileaks and Facebook and Twitter yet so we didn’t get as clear a view of their personal lives and thoughts as we do now. I bet the next election will be even more contentious. And every election after that, too.

Please don't read my comments above as any kind of an endorsement for Donald Trump. I abhor everything the man stands for. And I bet most other Americans do, too. But, by concentrating on Trump, we are missing the point. We are personifying our complaints about “the other side” and ignoring the issues behind the vote, the whiplash to our progressive ideals expressed by half of America. Even more importantly, we whitewash the fact that we allowed this to happen. We created this. We, the people. These are our representatives in congress. We elected them. Even after all the petulant behavior, we just voted most of them back into office again!

Much will be written about massive external influences on this election cycle (Russia, FBI, lobbyists, dark money, social media, fake news, etc). But, once again, we are missing the point. We are blaming others for what we, as a people, have created. And we are the only ones who can fix it.

This may all seem like too much doom and gloom but, to be honest, I'm actually optimistic about the future of America. We are moving in the right direction - in the long run. We have become a more inclusive country, we are more prosperous, crime is down, the better angels of our nature are winning the war. The government of the people, by the people, will eventually do the right thing. Over the long term. But, for that to happen, we the people have to engage. We have to get out of our cocoons and participate in the process. Not just the process of electing the president once every four years, but also the process of governing our country on a day to day basis.

This picture is by far the most optimistic one I have seen in this election cycle:


Just remember that. We will take this country, kicking and screaming, into the future. The next four years will hopefully only be a bump on the road to progress.

If you are not happy with what is going on, then please engage. Here are few concrete things you can do:

  1. Sign this petition to support the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. As far as I can tell, it is the simplest, most obvious, way to get rid of the electoral system. And it doesn't even require approval from the federal government. I'm tired of arguing about why we should continue to use a system that was designed over two hundred years ago to favor slave holding states. I don't care that it helps better representation for smaller states. That logic makes perfect sense for enforcing adequate representation in congress - not for picking the President! Either we are all equal in the voting process or we are not. We can't claim one but practice the other. It may have been convenient historically but is no longer warranted in this day and age.

  1. Get involved for the next round of elections for congress. The clock is already ticking.

Finally, a personal note. I have lived in this country and prospered for almost forty years. I have been a citizen for over thirty of those years. I admit to having largely ignored politics during most of that time. I was too busy working, raising a family, and whatever else it is that normal people do. Mea culpa!

I voted this time. For the first time in my life. It mattered this time.

I voted for Hillary. But my vote didn't matter. I live in overwhelmingly blue California.

Simultaneously, and perhaps fortuitously, I've also been reading several books on US history, about the creation of the republic, and about the founding fathers. Believe me. They were no saints, either. But they rose above their petty personal differences because they believed in an ideal. The ideal that the government of the people, by the people, is the only just form of government. In the long run, I believe, they have proven themselves correct.

I have already lived through a monarchy turned dictatorship, I’ve lived through anarchy (before fleeing a theocracy), and I’ve lived in a democracy. I bet you won't have much trouble figuring out which one I prefer, in the long run.

Yes, maybe Bernie would have won. Maybe he could have won. But that's beside the point. We, the people, didn't vote for him. Besides, the result would be exactly the same as what we have today. Just reverse the two halves of the population and their reactions. And he would have been totally blocked by a republican congress.

So, instead of complaining, let's engage in the political discussion. I know the most obvious reaction is to clam up and say “not my president”, “not my congress”, “not my government”; but, right now that is the worst thing we could possibly do. Yes, it will take time away from other precious objectives but I think it is required of us. If we are serious about this government by the people thing, anyway.

1 comment: