The same points apply to societies in general and to US democracy in particular. As we look to next year, we see our culture has been severely battered over the past few decades and we need to figure out what to do. As noted above, the “hard” stuff is (relatively) easy. Legislative agendas are afloat, including social justice, health, environment, and dozens of other areas. Although the likely blockage of Mitch McConnell will render significant steps (and anything that AOC would prefer) nugatory. Relations with Europe and China will be repaired, capable people will be appointed to senior positions and some progress will be made.
More challenging is the “soft” stuff. Political polarization, exacerbated by mercenary mass media, makes it seem that, as a society, we can’t talk to each other. Norms of courtesy and comity have been discarded (not least in relationships within our governmental bodies). This has been largely the work of the soon-to-be-erstwhile Administration and its craven allies. However, those on the ‘left’ are hardly innocent. Hillary Clinton’s infamous reference to Trump supporters as “deplorables” was insulting, over-generalizing, and destructive. The schadenfreude over anti-maskers getting infected is of the same ilk. Judgmentalism is rife on both sides.
The question is not whether I like everybody in this country (much less agree with them); rather, it is how can I contribute to mending the body politic. This requires sympathy rather than disparagement, an effort to listen to and through what others are saying, and listening to more than MSNBC/Fox News. Pretty much everyone I know (even in that bizarre bubble of culture known as the Bay Area) is complicated and contradictory. Underneath the vast majority of our fellow citizens there are some common values; unfortunately, they (we) have slipped into simplistic, Manichean thinking (both as to ourselves and each other).
More fundamentally, I have to decide that while it would be easier and nicer to imagine a country where everyone (more-or-less) agreed with me, that is not the case. Unless I am prepared to jump ship, I am part of this place and I will be better off with a community that accommodates and compromises than one which embraces some sort of ideological fantasy. There is no history of social revolution in this country (1776-83 replaced one set of white male elites with another); nor, as evidenced by the down-ticket strength of the GOP, (media hype over the “Proud Boys” notwithstanding) is one foreseeable (much less likely).
It means discarding easy (red/blue) labels and categories. It means making some hard choices on tough issues: social justice, abortion rights, and gun rights, among others, that aren’t fully aligned with my views. It means making an effort to find real concerns underneath the rhetoric and respecting them. It does not mean throwing away what I believe, but dealing with the reality of a complex and diverse population.
It also means working to engage others in conversation and encouraging everyone to participate in our shared endeavor. Civics lessons shouldn’t be limited to those under 22. This needs to be a conscious choice—setting a new habit—to value our political community as much as our political policy preferences. After all, what are our choices:?
- God smites all evil people, leaving just those who are right-thinking (i.e., us).
- We assume that it’s a generational thing, and that in twenty-or-so years, enough of “them” die off to foster necessary change.
- A modest-sized progressive majority makes the desired changes and “they” roll over and accept it.
- We battle it out indefinitely and have a miserable and dysfunctional body politic for a while.
It would be nice to have leaders who would lead us in a constructive direction. The corrupt political class (on both sides) is caught up in power dreams and few have stepped beyond this. On the other hand, it’s not (just) their fault. As Joseph de Maistre said (1811): “Every country has the government it deserves.”
Real leadership is cultural, moral and inclusive; in attitudes, not budgets.
I’m sure there are many who would say I’m being naïve, a Pollyanna, or that I have ‘sold out.’ I am eager to hear alternative ‘real-world’ solutions to our predicament.