Friday, July 01, 2011
So, what do we do, then?
In a Facebook exchange about mandating the saying the pledge of allegiance--which I think would not be helpful in any way--I was asked what I would suggest to help to unify the country. I answered (more or less) as follows:
At this point in our history our political narratives make national unity impossible.
Both of our major contemporary factions (remember how the Founders warned about the evils of factions?), both R and D bases/factions, believe that there is no living with the other. You see it on this Facebook page and every where else--if one side is for something the other is automatically against it. People on the "other side" are not only wrong--they are evil. People will even change their minds about issues just to stay on the other side from their "enemies."
I have lots of ideas about getting out of this situation--none of them original with me or novel or practical, given the thickness of the tar in which we are stuck.
First and foremost would be to remember what we learned in civics at Washington Elementary, Hedrick Junior and Medford Senior High School (class of 66) --that the hallmark of the American political system was compromise. That's what our Constitutional structure (separation of powers) requires in order to work. No compromise and there can only be...well, look at your newspaper...no compromise means gridlock.
The Founders were mutually suspicious of one another (you can look that up; e.g., big states and small states) and set up a system to balance interests--not to give one sway over the others. They understood (as we have forgotten) that anyone who gets too much power (government or economic) would cause problems for the general welfare (for everyone else).
Now it's all about pushing other people away from the table and expecting them to starve quietly while those remaining consume the share of those excluded as well as their own. It's about forgetting how we are all a part of a system that depends on everyone doing well enough to want to stay in the game. If we don't get back to that kind of understanding that we are all in this together and we can't succeed without each other then ... we are toast.
Regardless, requiring schools to display flags in every classroom and students to say the pledge of allegiance is not going to create some kind of a unified national identity. That wasn't what created the degree of unity we had in the fifties, the one that started to come apart in the sixties and is now completely unraveled. Sure, we said the pledge, then, but saying it wasn't what created our national consensus.
Far too many of us, even those who recite the pledge and stand for the national anthem at ball games, these days, don't really believe that the United States is about liberty and justice for all. Far too many of us think that we are being taken advantage of by some "special interest." No amount of reciting a pledge of allegiance is going to change the fact that way too many of us--rich or poor--think we don't get the share of the pie we deserve and that the only way we will get it is to identify who stole it from us and take it back--at gunpoint (or with the flourish of a pen) if necessary.
I don't know if that's the kind of thing you wanted to hear from me, Cyndi, but it's what I can say.
I am the most cynical person you'll ever meet and, at the same time, the most optimistic. I never underestimate and can thus try to account for the depravity in my own heart, and in the hearts of everyone else. That's something else the Founders understood (reading what they wrote instead of what others write about them increases one's understanding of where they were coming from)--they understood human nature and what we were all up against trying to create republic on the principle of self government given what a sinful lot we actually are.
Do any of the ideologies you hear out there today really describe how things actually happen in this world? Really? or do they all just describe utopias, things that those who believe in them think SHOULD be reality, what they want reality to be--to suit them and people like them?
"Darn," said one economist (or politician, or one of anything else any one of us is) to another. "According to my map we are on top of that hill over there." In saying that he was more honest than most of the ideologues who are driving our narratives--and driving us apart--today.