I know people are exhausted with the political dialogue. I am as well. Government is not meant to be this far forward in our lives. It is meant to be the structural framework behind the scenes so we can pursue the individual and shared goals of our lives. These are very unusual times.
But let’s not forget what is at stake. This is not petty bickering or pointless head bashing over immovable viewpoints. I believe we have unveiled competing visions of American purpose and responsibility, and many of the values that separate us seem irreconcilable. Until the millennium I believed Americans had more in common than not when it came to the notion of purpose. Now I have a hard time seeing the glue binding us together.
That’s what I think we’re fighting over and what I think is at stake. That’s why our social media dialogue with each other is increasingly less civil, and that’s causing polar opposites to either stop talking with each other or openly despise each other. Unity for unity’s sake is an unholy compromise and not an option for me. We either have a treasure trove of shared values or we don’t. If we don’t, the divisiveness can’t be mended because morality is at the core of personal definition.
If we don’t agree then we don’t agree. I see little evidence that at the core of national purpose there is broad agreement. It is the purpose of leadership to build consensus out of difference to unite disparate elements in strength. Politics is a different game, and it can be a nasty one. If there are competing visions of America up for grabs, I see little choice but to listen closely and then stand firm on moral imperatives. If we find that we have irreconcilable differences, then there is a reason why.
I have already detailed a laundry list of apparently irreconcilable differences in a previous post. Our lack of consensus around civil rights, gender rights, a woman’s right to choose, economic inequality, healthcare, environmental justice, personal weapons, educational opportunity, and America’s international posture are ripping us apart with little healing on the horizon. Let me take a run at boiling it down to just three things I believe are at the core of our national impasse, sharing my own very personal beliefs:
- I believe we live in a global community. I believe that with immense prosperity comes immense responsibility and humility. To put our own national interest entirely first denies the leadership stake we have taken in the world as a result of disproportionate consumption of natural resources and stage time. None of this is incompatible with my love of country.
- I believe the highest purpose of government is peaceful prosperity, evidenced by a profound commitment to establishing and maintaining a level playing field. Government rises to admiration in the administration of justice and fairness. I don’t belive the highest purpose of government is a tax cut. I’m not even sure a tax cut makes my top ten, since most of the benefit will go to wealthy people whose lives won’t be changed by it. Tax reform focused on true fairness makes my top ten.
- I believe government leadership is about public service. It is selfless. It is in awe of its own responsibility and acts accordingly with intellectual rigor and behavioral reserve. It is not authoritarian or autocratic and does not seek to position itself as uniformly superlative. Exemplary leaders bring out the best in us, not the worst. I don’t believe a big job title is about self-aggrandizement, bullying, sloppy thinking, whim, or egomaniacal hubris.
We seem to be descending into a culture war. We’ve already proven we are capable of a Civil War. Is it absolutely unthinkable that could happen again? Try talking to some people who ardently disagree with you on your deepest convictions. Then you decide if we’ve all learned history’s most vital lessons.
I need to focus on my family and friends, my business, and my dreams, same as you, but I’m being emotionally battered by the scope of this attack on my values. This is where my head is at, and I feel a generational obligation to champion resistance. I admire journalists and the media when they take their job seriously. I am a writer so I am part of the media, and I choose words with discipline and scrutiny. Most professional writers I know do the same, despite the click bait and fake news that tempts hacks. To frame the media as our enemy is purely ignorant and dangerous. Close reading, observation, and listening saves lives and is the cornerstone of cultural achievement.
I’m not willing to cross my own lines for false harmony. I know the same is true for those who vehemently disagree with me and feel their convictions are being violated. This probably will end badly, but it’s always crucial to know what we’re fighting for. In these extraordinary times, it is the soul of our nation.
Post Title: H/T Country Joe and the Fish
Image: Three Flags by Jasper Johns / Whitney Museum of American Art
Thank you for articulating this so well. It does help to name what’s happening. Its difficult for me to reconcile that a portion of Americans think that a mentally unstable narcissistic is ok as the leader of the free world. We need more Education about leadership ethics and character. I continue to hold that the greater good will prevail and it will take conscious engagement and action from each of us.
Appreciate your comment, Sabrina. All we can do is fight back, resist, and wait him out for the next election. The wreckage he leaves will be severe. Our job is to minimize the damage and stop as much as we can from happening using all legal means possible.
Yes, Ken keep being the catalyst for altering the political and leadership framework. No one should attack your values. No one. I think that leadership follows The Way of the Tao– Yin and Yang. Balance. Leadership must see the light in darkness, and the darkness in light. Granted it is very difficult to change culture, but you can change its structure. Structure or the framework shall determine the culture we create. We can change structure by building relationships and partnerships with others, including the ‘enemy’. Like in Aikido– no enemy, no war. These relationships are based on values– our job is reconciling those polarizing or common values. Otherwise, there is no leadership, only perceived coercion on one side. Granted the hardest part is unifying both sides as one. Clearly, this is not easy looking at the current state of affairs. Though one side would have to sacrifice righteousness first… Right now everyone is waiting for the other to flinch, instead of giving up being right.
Thanks, Jon. You are always measured and insightful. I wish more people had your patience and wisdom. Culture change is hard. People have to want to change. Culture war is more pernicious. It happens when people stop caring about what is right and only focus on winning for bragging rights. Your way of thinking is substantially more productive.