Saturday, July 30, 2011

how pig wrestling has led to the worship of jackals

Long ago, I was a divorce lawyer.  During those five years I learned some of the most important things I know about people and the way we function--what we are wiling to do-- when we are laboring under the control of our anger, fear, pain and desperation.  Most divorces end without turning into full blown wars, but all are on the same  continuum.  The closest I ever saw to an "amicable divorce" was one in which both parties actually took  ten full paces before they turned and fired.  Some day I may write a book, but there's one aspect of this dynamic of conflict I want to write about at the moment because it is relevant to what has become of American politics.

In a divorce there is no referee until, and unless, the case gets to court.  The law doesn't really care, in the end, about the things many people care the most about--proving that their soon-to-be ex-spouses are bad, bad human beings.  All that means that people are free to say pretty much anything they want to say about these soon-to-be ex-spouses until one is front of the judge.  Some of them are devastated that, at this point, Her/His Honor tells them to put a sock in it.

All people going through a divorce develop a narrative.  It is probably a psychological necessity for one's self esteem and for how one thinks one's friends, family and even children view them.  The more hurt and threatened (or guilty) one is feeling the more extreme the narrative becomes. 

One of the ways some people deal with a narrative of their soon-to-be ex-spouse that threatens their own sense of being in the right (or deal with their own guilt)  is called "parrot-ing."  It's simple, really.  If one is accused of something by one's soon-to-be ex-spouse then one will turn around and accuse that soon-to-be ex-spouse of being the one who is actually doing that.   The accuser becomes the accused, the victim becomes the perpetrator.

"Me? You're the one who ... "

Most often this is done cynically, to confound the accuser, to deflect blame, to prolong and escalate the frustration of the victim.  It also inflates their attorney fees if the victims allow themselves to get caught up in it (or their lawyers encourage them to do so).  The idea is to keep the conflict alive and punish, punish, punish the victim.  Interestingly, this was most common in my cases where the "parrot," and not the victim, had initiated the divorce. 

Having seen parrot-ing time and again in my cases I began to warn my new clients about it (along with other predictable horse-play).   When they would call me later and tell me, for example, that their soon-to-be ex-husband was bringing the children home late from weekend visits and not returning their clothing with them, I reminded them of my warning and predicted that if we complained about it I might well soon receive a call from his lawyer accusing my client of being the one really causing the problem.  Time and again any harassment my client suffered would, in the end, bring about the counter-claim that she was the perpetrator and that he was the victim. 

I advised my clients to ignore it and concentrate on the legal issues--which except in the most rare cases have nothing to do with "fault" on anyone's part.  Proving one is the victim and not the perpetrator (of stuff going on now or things that happened years ago) has nothing to do with the outcome of most cases.  Unfortunately, at such a fragile time in one's life, not many of us are able to ignore malicious harassment.  In the midst of divorce one is even more than usually concerned about  how one is viewed by others, especially one's friends and family. 

Never wrestle with a pig, I used to advise, you'll both get dirty and the pig likes it.

Last night I heard John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, accuse the President and the Democrats of being "unable to say yes" to a deal on raising the debt ceiling.   He went on to say that he stuck his "neck out a mile" to try to make a deal, that he even put "revenues" on the table but the President refused to take a deal that gave the Democrats everything they said they wanted but that Mr. Obama refused to take the deal.  Mr. Obama just wanted to make this all a political issue.

I remembered Mr. Boehner and Mr. Cantor claiming time and again throughout this passion-play that "the American people" were on their side when, in fact, polls show that the majority of the American people support a balance of revenue increases and spending cuts to reduce the deficit.   I also remember Senator McConnel repeating, several times over the past 18 months or so, that the primary concern of the Republicans in Congress was to make sure President Obama was a one term president.

As I thought about this I realized that the Republicans are parrot-ing the President and the Democrats.

I don't say that the Democrats' or the President's point of view on this is necessarily correct.  I am only looking at the way that the game is being played.  The fact is that after years of hearing the Democrats call the Republicans "the party of no" the Republicans now call the Democrats the same thing--and "prove it" by saying that they did what the President actually did, and that the President did what they actually did.   Whether it's best to try to lower the deficit by cutting spending alone, or lower the deficit with a balance of spending cuts and raising taxes, my point is simply how the parties tried to prevail--and the Republicans parrot-ed and are parrot-ing. 

This is different in politics than in divorce because, as I say, in a divorce none of this stuff matters.  In politics, though, this is huge, because as this goes on one of two things happens in the minds of the American people.   Those in each "base"  will believe that their champions are the victims and the other side is perpetrator.   On the other hand, those who are not part of either base become more alienated from all this pig wrestling and less inclined to participate in this dirty process and less inclined to believe that the government can do anything right.

(You can readily identify those in either base, by the way.  They are the ones saying that they have been victimized by the other side's dirty tactics and therefore they are ready to escalate the dirty tactics to get even or even the odds.  You can also recognize those who are not part of either base.  They are the ones saying "a plague on both their houses.")

Which side do we suppose benefits from this hardening escalation that sends those in the middle to the sidelines?   Which party wins when voter turn out exceeds normal levels?  Which party wins when people stay home?  Look it up.

So the cynical point of view that drives awarding the Lily, here, has to give it to the Republicans, but must add an honorable mention to all of us.   The refusal of Republicans to compromise--to recognize that the Democrats also represent real people in this country who deserve to have outcomes shaped by their interests (how the Constitution is designed to work)--is probably going to have an impact on how Democrats in Congress function in the future.  There is, in fact, a narrative that argues with some justification claiming that the D's actually started this by freezing out the R's in the past.  

The R's may win in 2012 but there will be still be D's in Congress.  Will they insist on 60 votes to pass anything in the Senate?  Will they put secret holds on the Republican president's nominees or on bills they don't like?  And if they do, what will it look like the next time the R's ride into power?  An eye, it is written, for an eye until the whole world is blind.

The ante will just keep going up and up--and so does the gridlock, along with the amount of wealth concentrated in the top 2% of the population.  A co-incidence? 

This means Americans will continue to turn off to politics making H.L. Mencken's assessment more and more accurate:  American politics is the worship of jackals by jack asses.

It also means that the quotation attributed to Benjamin Franklin--"We have given you a republic, if you can keep it"--is looking less like the warning it was meant to be and more like an indictment. 

Just saying ....

1 comment:

Kay said...

And of course we can't rely on the "fair and balanced" media to call them on the parroting. Makes me wish the the Pinocchio effect would show up once in a while.