Now Wrestling with Normalcy

peacePeople I know on the right tell me the way I continue to feel  unbalanced, lacking foundational equilibrium, wondering what shared values remain among our vast nation that’s how they felt when Barack Obama was elected and now we get to experience the same emotion. I want to have empathy that acknowledges their reflection, but it’s hard for me to grasp the counterpoint.

When Obama was elected we had started an unjust war, crashed the real estate market on unregulated bank speculation, crashed the stock market causing desperate people to liquidate retirement holdings at half their value, and unemployment was spiraling. The night of his election supporters across the nation spontaneously danced in the streets. When Donald Trump was elected, many of the same people who danced for Obama marched in protest against Trump, but I saw no one dancing for Trump. Is repealing the burdens of the Obama administration a cause equally worth celebrating?

I’m not mourning politics. I’m trying to come to terms with shared values, norms of civility, and making sense of my entire education  classroom instruction, professional experience, and community engagement. We can’t all be right about the Trump agenda and approach. If I’m not in the majority, I’m misaligned with about half the people in the places I travel. This is about spiritual identity and wondering what it means to be American.

This is not sour grapes because my team lost and someone else’s won. I didn’t suffer isolation and questioning of self when the Dodgers lost the NLCS and by the way, the victorious Cubs fans visiting Chavez Ravine were pretty cool. This is way beyond a team losing. It’s about losing the team I thought my great grandparents came here to join.

The strange part is, I am personally likely to benefit from Trump’s financial policies, as long as none of his fringe followers assault me for my heritage. I believe the people hungry this Thanksgiving who bought his story will still be hungry the next four Thanksgivings. They will discover they were conned and I will still have empathy for them and be fighting for their human and civil rights.

Yet if you tell me the way I feel on this Thanksgiving spiritually empty   is how you felt when Obama won, I actually feel bad for you. This is a feeling no one should have, that maybe we don’t have enough in common to share the holiday Abraham Lincoln envisioned when he created it during the Civil War. I can’t get over what happened, what our nation just did and what we might do next. I wonder if Obama’s equally offended opponents will get past what they believe was the moral wrong in his election.

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Wrestling with Wrong

trump-elected-2016I went to bed last night demoralized, my faith in democracy challenged in a way I never believed was possible.

It was late, after the acceptance speech by President-elect Donald Trump. I was exhausted. I slept very little.

I awoke this morning in a state of confusion, a daze that still lingers over me. My fear of half the nation’s voters, more than 50 million of my fellow citizens, brings grief and anxiety to my every thought. Can our ideas about what defines the United States of America be that different? Yes, they can.

I’ve worked a lot of campaigns as a volunteer. This one was different. This one was unprecedented in its vitriol and disgust. This one was personal. This one was moral. The fog of war created cover for absurdist antics and human abuse. This behavior was not taught as acceptable when I learned as a child to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

I have been physically threatened on multiple occasions for my writing about the election, almost entirely by anonymous sources online, for expressing my views, activating my right to free speech. I have experienced anti-Semitism. I have been asked to leave the nation to which my family immigrated generations ago. It is always strange to see words like this in print because I do not experience them at all in real world life, yet those words are always out there masked in cowardice. They never go away. Hate may sit in the background, but it is always with us.

I won’t stop writing. I won’t stop talking. You may have won an election but you haven’t won the bullying match. Don’t believe me, just watch.

I received an email early in the day from a dear friend asking for my advice on how to address his community this morning in the face of shock. I told him I was still forming my thoughts, but here was a start:

I would say human beings are fallible and the wrong answer has always been the risk of our democracy. Majority rule is by nature imperfect, but we haven’t identified a better system.

I would remind people we are now almost perfectly divided, that Trump prevailed by geography and demographics, not by intellectual mandate. Clinton won the popular vote, albeit by less than 1%, which tells us how few minds have to change for sanity to return.

I would make the point empirically that education is the basis of democracy, and while a precious few students enjoy the highest privilege on earth, that is not the norm in this nation by a long shot and if we don’t fix that divide we will destroy the American dream. With intelligence must come humility or Progressives will continue to be seen as elite and detached. Regardless and without apology, reading beats YouTube and a tweet is not a policy statement. Rigorous thought matters over the long haul, no matter how many trivialities consume our hours.

I would tell them to stand by their beliefs, that courage is only real when you oppose the tyranny of the majority and risk losing something for what others can have later. History is written in the future, not the present. Fight hate, fight oppression, have empathy for your opponent or you can’t win them over, have compassion for the hungry, never betray your morality for material gain, and prepare now to fix this error four years from now.

He’s the President, not the King. We bond together now to keep him from having more authority than our Constitution will allow. False prophets are always exposed. This one will betray his following like all others have and then our good work can continue.

Teach your children well.

Shortly after I sent that I watched the live concession speech of Hillary Clinton and felt pressure crushing my heart. Then I watched the live remarks of Barack Obama committing his team to the peaceful transition of power. Following that I spent a few hours reading numerous posts from friends, strangers, journalists, and pundits either trumpeting the success of their candidate or, like me, attempting to find a path to wrestling with wrong. Only now I am I beginning to come to a point of view on where to look next:

Clinton supporters vastly underestimated the power of disaffection and blame.

Trump supporters are even more vastly underestimating our commitment to our values and hard-won gains.

We are separated by the thinnest of all margins. We tip the scales by standing our ground. In the letdown of our opposition, which I believe is inevitable, a few will join us and then we’ll right the ship.

Don’t underestimate a committed cause. It cuts both ways, but reality will expose delusion.

Stand your ground, speak your voice, recommit to goodness.

I don’t have it all figured it out anymore than you do. There is still a brick on my heart and it won’t be lifted anytime soon. I will learn to live with that, and fight harder because I feel the perpetual discomfort. We will not teach the next generation that our ultimate experiment in democracy is won or lost on who is the most effective liar and stirrer of hate. That is too cynical a pill to swallow.

We also won’t cave under the auspices of, “It’s time to come together and heal.” I have no business with the alt-right. I have no interest in excusing racist, misogynist, bigoted hate speech. You want to build an idiotic wall? We will oppose it. You want to round-up millions of people you don’t want here? We will stand in front of their homes. You want to take away medical care from 20 million Americans? Not without the fight of your life.

Blind faith that your super-hero Trump can bring back jobs that are no longer economically viable is ill-founded. People who bet on a whim will discover that quickly. The notion that random change for the sake of change will improve lives is equally empty. People who embraced rhetoric absent a fact-based plan will also discover that quickly. It is illogical to reject globalization and automation. You don’t have to like it, but you can’t make it go away. If you try to put up walls, you will have wars, and they are way more costly. The change you think you want to embrace cannot occur without mass loss.

This reality will take place in record time. Remember some of the disillusionment that followed President Obama’s first few years in office? The exponential disillusionment coming your way will make that seem like a full slate of promises kept. If you were disaffected before, watch assets as they shift at lightning pace to the 1% when they go on sale. Then you will realize that you have been duped by a con man, and when a very few cross back over the line to sanity, we will get back to work moving forward.

We wrestle with wrong by exposing it. That path began this morning. The sooner we recommit to course correction, the sooner this injustice is corrected.

Yes, we can.

The Shame of Trump Soils Us All

trump-apologyIn this one man, Donald Trump, I see everything that is wrong with our nation and what some celebrate as success. This is not a man of substance. This is not a man of commendable accomplishment. This is not a complex thinker who can solve intricate global problems.

This is a self-serving egomaniac with a singular view of the world formed from his own narcissism. There is no “but Hillary” to offset his catalogue of maniacal life behaviors. He is beyond redemption and history will not be kind to his legacy. He brings shame on everyone who wants to believe in the pride of America.

Trump is so intellectually thin you wonder how he ever made a dime. Can you imagine working for this blowhard for a day? I can’t. All bluster and hyperbole. No substance of any kind. No humility. No manners. No humanity. Keep spewing, Donald. It shows us who you are. You are a nobody, which is your very worst fear. You are not important  sorry to confront you with the truth.

Every one of us is soiled by his sad, tragic, despicable, deplorable existence. He is not making America great again. He is single-handedly making a mockery of all we hold dear. He is taking us down. This is not who we are. He cannot be an emblem of anything but shame and humiliation.

It will take decades for our nation’s reputation to recover from this global embarrassment. If we want the healing to begin, we need to categorically distance ourselves from this useless monster. We can offer only a humble apology to the world for his tirades, explaining that this is an extreme of the democracy we embrace, not a reflection of the character to which we aspire.

The debates we have witnessed have not been comforting, but they have been revealing, mostly of character and preparedness. It was actually the final question of the vice-presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence — asking how we as citizens enduring this noise can get past our immeasurable differences  that seemed to me the most telling. It is difficult to believe our nation will fully recover from the divisiveness of this campaign and the last twenty or so years of Congress in our lifetime. I don’t see big picture unity on the horizon no matter which party is in power.

Ultimately I think this bodes poorly for America a hundred or so years from now. Both sides are fully convinced the other has a catastrophic vision of the nation’s future. It is possible with that perpetual split both sides might be correct in their prediction. If we don’t fix that somehow, I wonder if it matters who holds power in the interim.

My own partisan leanings come not from a love of party but for a need for strength in numbers to stand up against oppression. I’m not a “joiner” by nature, but I am a minority and a product of immigrant culture. When I bond with others in a block vote it is to protect the social progressive agenda that I see as a moral imperative, despite the failings and manipulation of many on our side.

I don’t see Hillary Clinton as the lesser of two evils. I see her as a complex thinker who can lead no matter her flaws. I see Barack Obama as a hero who saved our nation from economic collapse and as an inspired legal scholar who thinks about justice and humanity with foresight and nuance. I am not a Democrat to be difficult. I am a Democrat because I have carefully taken stock of my values and need a voice much louder than my own to make the case for teaching tolerance and keeping hope alive.

In his own debate appearances and speaking engagements, Trump continues to demonstrate that he is largely incapable of expressing a single, coherent, on-point sentence. He rambles like a lazy school kid who won’t study before speech class. Imagine him in a cabinet meeting. Imagine him at a global summit. He is an emotional basket case, not a clear thinker. Take the word “disaster” out of his vocabulary and he becomes inarticulate. We see him pacing onstage with his back to the audience, looming like Frankenstein in a bad horror movie. We see him attack the debate moderators for doing their jobs. If this were a movie we’d have walked out on page 1 of the script.

Want to know what an unaccountable, menacing, totalitarian dictator looks and sounds like? Play back the second presidential debate and watch the man who seeks the United States presidency exhibit his version of democracy and visionary leadership.

I am ashamed that people abroad are seeing this. Will we ever regain their trust in our dream after we’ve shown them repeatedly that a signficant portion of our population considers Trump a viable commander-in-chief?

Vote in large numbers and send the global message that we abhor this lunatic.

_____

This article originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

Politically Incorrect Is Harder Than You Think

Lenny BruceThere’s something eerie about the Facebook world-view, which challenges us to live publicly out loud, to reveal ourselves globally and without filters, as we communicate in real-time our every thought and action, trivial or serious.

Mark Zuckerberg, at a relatively young age, has suggested the world will be a better place if we live more open lives, if we have no fears about what is private and what is public about us.

That’s quite a counterintuitive notion given our past, and one that has made him enormously wealthy in its adoption at various levels among a billion or so human beings across every settled zone of Planet Earth. Curiously, I find the thundering rhetoric around the U.S. Presidential Election has taken some of that “openness ideal” into the still largely uncharted territory of political correctness.

Here are two opposing views in the argument:

Am I being unnaturally confined if I allow myself to be restricted by a set of language norms accepted broadly as being politically correct?

*** or ***

Am I a more authentic person for saying whatever is on my mind absent artificially imposed rules somehow intended to protect the feelings of others but violating my first amendment rights?

Now consider the underlying question: Are these two viewpoints in fact diametrically opposed? Is someone a hypocrite if in public he speaks politely and without offensive language, yet out of the public eye makes racist slurs among friendlies? Or is that individual living more candidly by saying whatever is on his mind via stream of consciousness as long as his expressions align with his actual belief sets?

Said another way, if someone isn’t particularly sympathetic to embracing social diversity, are we as a society better off with that potentially upsetting speech articulated or kept silent? Those trying to stomp out political correctness might suggest we all are better off saying whatever is on our minds, but I am going to suggest that this has nothing whatsoever to do with political correctness. Bigotry is bigotry. Political correctness does not ensure civility when it is unwillingly imposed; it simply masks a dangerous expression from public view in the name of conflict avoidance.

Of course all of us have the ultimate hypocritical alternative: to speak cordially in public bound by understood norms of political correctness but then go hog-wild and say what we want anonymously online no matter how vile it is, convincing ourselves that hiding in the shadows as we spew is further entitlement in our right to free speech. To his credit, Zuckerberg mostly solved this by requiring Facebook posts to be signed under true identities, but, as we know, if you want to spew, Facebook is not the only game in town.

If you believe a wall should be built between the U.S. and Mexico, then go ahead and say it, but don’t think you have beaten political correctness by blurting that out. I don’t think the wall should be built. I feel in no way restricted by political correctness. I am comfortable saying what’s on my mind and I also find it pretty easy not to be offensive or threatening in my remarks. If you think the wall should be built but are filtering your public opinion because of the chokehold political correctness has around your vocabulary, you are deceiving yourself. Political correctness is not your problem. Your unwillingness to come clean publicly on your controversial stance is your problem. No one can liberate you by removing the filter. You are what you stand for, no matter what you say, and when you say what you stand for, you are no better than what you are saying.

Perhaps we are we missing the point of why political correctness was challenged in the first place. Being politically incorrect and saying whatever flows from your lips no matter how hurtful it might be are not the same thing, not even close. It is critical that we put in context where the modern politically incorrect movement began, long before it was labeled. It was a reaction by comedians like Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, and Richard Pryor to exposing the hypocrisy of what was said behind your back, not in front of your face. To twist that into an intolerant free-for-all that justifies hurtful speech or even hate speech, is the opposite of what these language pioneers set out to accomplish.

There was a time in this nation, largely the second half of the 20th century, when it was brave to say the unsayable because someone was trying to discourage hate, not justify it. Here’s what Lenny said:

“Every group every system has a set of values and morals, and when you get outside those, then the alarms ring. I was politically incorrect to 95% of the country; luckily my 5% had the bread to come see me.”

Lenny also said:

“Freedom of speech is a two-way street, man. You have a right to say whatever you want and the Boss has a right to tell people to arrest you.”

Compare that to the recent words of Presidential candidate Trump:

“I don’t frankly have time for political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico, both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody.”

And more recently from Trump:

“And I ask you this, I ask you this — crime, all of the problems — to the African-Americans, who I employ so many, so many people, to the Hispanics, tremendous people: What the hell do you have to lose? Give me a chance. I’ll straighten it out. I’ll straighten it out. What do you have to lose?”

Is it fair to compare a groundbreaking stand-up comic from a half century ago with the current GOP candidate for President of the United States? Probably not, but if you don’t see a difference in how each of them applies the need to speak freely to make a point, we probably aren’t going to agree on when it is justified and makes sense. In Lenny’s case, he is embracing irony to open our eyes to self-awareness. In Trump’s case, he is playing to disenfranchisement to stir up resentment.

Bill Maher called his original show Politically Incorrect to make a point about the absurdities of covering up hypocrisy with language. He has offended many, and he is anything but always right in his opinions, but his intention is to make us think harder about what we say and do. If you have a point to make in the name of a lightning rod that takes us to better thinking  like Lenny, like George, like Richard — have at it, but be ready to suffer the consequences of being misunderstood if your point is not clear. Samantha Bee is doing an amazing job carrying the torch now. She is hugely politically incorrect and a beacon of light, afraid of nothing. All of these people carry a core message of love. If you carry a core message of love and have something to say that makes me work harder at understanding my failings, have at it, but don’t think you’re doing me any favors by calling me one name behind my back and being polite when we meet face to face. If that’s political correctness, we have failed at diversity. If you’re a bigot, we’ll know.

This year is the 50th anniversary of the death of Lenny Bruce. Let’s keep his torch burning brightly by proving we know the difference between stepping beyond the bounds of political correctness to make a point and blathering on insensitively about how we wish we could say what was on our mind but somehow feel repressed. If you have something to say, say it, then stand by it. If it makes the world a better place, you’ll have said the right thing no matter whom you may offend in the short-term. I’m guessing if what you have to say really matters, it won’t be offensive in the least.

_____

This article originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

What’s Going On?

Marvin Gaye: What's Going On?We wake up to news that the prior night an innocent person was killed at point-blank range. We come back from lunch to news of a mass shooting in a public gathering place. We drive home from work but have to go around downtown because there’s a bomb scare. We sit down to dinner and try to dissect the political ramblings of where to plant the blame and why it’s someone else’s fault that nothing can be done about bloodshed. We go to bed trying to shut out the squabbling hysteria and another gunshot rings out. This time maybe it’s across the street.

Alton Sterling.

Philando Castile.

The slaughter of five police officers in Dallas.

That’s was in 72 hours, folks.

Last month we suffered Orlando. Last year it was San Bernardino. Two years ago it was Ferguson. Sandy Hook, Aurora, and Columbine might seem to some like ancient history. We can’t even keep an inventory or a timeline in our own minds —and that’s before we even toss in the endless acts of organized terrorism around the globe.

Some of the shooters are mentally ill, some are socially broken, sadly enough, some are cops. You try to tease them apart — it’s not the same thing when a psychopath fires into the crowd as it is when a jittery police officer kills a pleading African-American on the street — but under all of it you find the common theme: unrestrained hatred, reckless emotion taking power over determined action.

Violence, murder, death. Blame, finger-pointing, posturing. Every single day now. What vision of America is this? How did we get ourselves here? The victims fall pointlessly and then the rest of us argue to exhaustion. We have to be better than this. We just have to be better than this.

If the best minds speak out, will we hear them?

We are simultaneously irate and numb. How exactly can we be both of those at the same time?

Is it the 300 million cheap retail guns? The mass economic inequality? A sudden perceived freedom to express racist thoughts as “just saying candidly what’s on someone’s mind?” Too much pent-up anger in the institutions empowered to protect us from widespread chaos?

Marvin Gaye sang it the last time we rumbled nationally on the topic of civil rights. What’s Going On?

It’s more than we can see, hear, feel, or perceive. It’s not us and them. It’s not here and there. We are all in it all the time whether we want to be or not. Hello, Social Media, the untethered connectivity that weaves us together habitually and perpetually.

I am convinced the internet itself has to be at work here, although I see it as an equal plus and minus given the freedom it has already inspired in developing, previously autocratic countries. It’s not a coincidence that public violence and social media are exploding together.

Think about it. TV was the fuel of Vietnam protests and the Civil Rights Movement. We saw stuff everyday on analog television that we never saw before, and that made us mad, so we reacted. Now the internet lets us see and hear everything in realtime, it lasts a second in impact, and then a meme wipes that out with another. Nothing is edited, vicious words and horrific images fly around the globe at light speed. Regular folks like us gobble it up and talk about it like tallying statistics, while other “less regular” folks do who knows what because of it or maybe even try to make their own news for a few seconds.

Pretty soon we are on overload, frozen in inability to combat the madness.

Yes, the for-profit media is playing a role, but I don’t think it’s the big money professionals who are whipping up the frenzy as much as our addiction to social media. I don’t think any of us understands the impact the constant give-and-take-and-tackle-and-refute is having on us because we are devouring the scraps embedded in the platform simultaneously with its invention — without enough history, context, or perspective to make real sense of the role we are playing as nodes.

This is not a value judgment on our actions, mind you, it’s an observation. I am as guilty as anyone of living in the fray of exchange. I am more guilty because I am a writer and any good I try to do in getting you to think about this stuff can and will backfire and create more angst in its dismissal and rebuttal.

Sorry, I don’t have any brilliant answers. I’m a little frozen as well, a lot like you. I’m an observer and an interpreter, one voice trying to wrestle through the noise and rhetoric. I am convinced that it is not going to be a politician who leads us out of this muck. Martin Luther King wasn’t elected. He inspired his following. He paid the price, and he made a difference. We need that badly. I don’t have a clue what a Dr. King looks like in the 21st century or even if such a thing is possible anymore given our cynicism. I hope someone out there can figure out how to be one, the real deal.

Here’s one answer: Don’t let social media demoralize you. Don’t let the random ramblings of reactionary tirades spin you. Don’t be confused and don’t be manipulated by entrenched greed or opportunistic power grabs. Stay focused on ideas that resonate with your values, but listen thoughtfully when someone who looks or sounds different from you is making a compelling case for justice. Celebrate unsung heroes who are quietly making a difference. Catch someone in an act of compassion and sing their praises. The self-imposed noise around us can be divisive or unifying — it’s a rather important choice and always a choice.

Apathy and the status quo aren’t a solution. Terror can’t be a norm. We must find a way to unmake this mess. Don’t give up. Demand better. Demand sanity. Listen for the silenced voice in the room without an agenda. The better answers won’t be in obvious places. It is time to Think Different.

_____

This article originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

Harnessing The Bern!

Dear Bernie,

You did a great job.

You galvanized a young generation of voters.

You helped change the dialogue to one of fairness.

You helped us to Think Different.

Now it’s time to be a mensch.

What’s at stake is everything.

We all have to row together in the same canoe.

I’m With Her are winning words.

Please be a mensch.

Love,

Those who need you.

bernie-sanders-hillary-clinton-democratic-debate

Author’s Postscript:

If we step out of campaign mode, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton really aren’t that far apart on the key issues that change our lives. They both share a core set of humanistic values and so do their constituents. Bringing us together will accomplish way more of the Progressive Agenda than an artificial wall.

We can continue to build upon the legacy of President Obama if we unite. Our commonality is way beyond our differences.

Bernie is going to join the Clinton campaign, I’m certain of that – the question is when and how ardently. None of his critical concerns will be ignored if he takes his seat at the table. He has earned that seat. It’s a good seat. He has to RSVP sooner rather than later because every minute counts now. He has to make that choice. I have faith he will do the right thing. Then Bernie can still be Bernie.

It begins. Onto November.

_____

Photo: DNC Presidential Debate, April 2016.

12 Reasons Why We Vilify

FlagFightA recent debate on my Facebook page raised the issue of whether there is a double standard among Progressives as to where and when indictment of political opponents is warranted. Taking this a step further, the discussion evolved into the appropriateness of vilification of someone’s opponent in an argument, and whether that vilification was one-sided with regard to political party leanings.

I have my opinions on this, but I want to set them aside for a moment and simply delve into the issue of vilification as the outcome of disagreement, and how we devolve to that extreme.

As a noble sidebar, let’s take a quick run down a philosophy bypass in summarizing the works of Soren Kierkegaard, a 19th-century Danish philosopher largely focused on making sense of his devout Christian faith in an increasingly modern and existential world. Kierkegaard suggested we live our lives in three realms: the aesthetic, where we act simply in our own interest and do whatever we enjoy; the ethical, where we act according to agreed laws to avoid punishment; and the religious, where we do what is right in an absolute sense because we see no other acceptable alternative. From the religious realm, comprehensively embracing the tale of Abraham’s test by God to sacrifice his own child, Kierkegaard describes faith ultimately as an absurdist paradox. You believe or you don’t. You don’t owe anyone an explanation because you decide in your heart what God believes is right.

You don’t have to buy Kierkegaard’s framework to apply it. You simply have to understand that our values are substantially derived from the religious realm as he describes it, regardless if we consider ourselves traditionally religious. They are belief sets we acquire however we acquire them, and we don’t feel we have to justify them to others. Returning to the realm of the politicalthe ethical set of laws we choose to accept in our Constitutionally defined secular societymy sense is that our act of vilification emerges with the full erosion of our shared values. If we don’t have enough places we agree on critical laws reflecting deeply held values, then the opposition to our views becomes moral and absolute vs. legal and relative.

Consider some examples: Whether taxes should be increased 2% or 4% is essentially an intellectual argument where we are unlikely to vilify someone who disagrees with us. Whether health care is a human right or an imposition of authority is less intellectual, so we become emotional. Whether a woman’s right to choose is absolute or controllable takes us to fundamental beliefs, where the opposition becomes the enemy. The more we disagree at the fundamental level, the less we have in common and the more we reject the opposing argument as an assault on our basic living principles.

Here’s the rub: Without a set of some shared values embodied in our ethical laws, we can’t be much of a unified, strong nation. This is a danger of our profound experiment in democracy, and at the moment I believe we are fully putting it to the test. If you extrapolate the tenor of our current discourse to the full extreme, where all we can do is vilify one another because we cannot find a set of shared values, we might indeed be one national crisis away from ending our time in the sunno matter how many nukes we have in our inventory, or how many gold bars we have in our repository. Call it the challenge of WWIII, or perhaps an economic meltdown without a reachable escape hatch. If we can’t find the shared values that lead us to an agreed solution with a clock ticking, everything we have accomplished together to date becomes a footnote.

How scary is it, and how much do we cross into each other’s most sacred space? Consider this starter list of how little we value in each other’s convictions:

  1. We don’t agree on a woman’s right to choose.
  2. We don’t agree on the universality of health care.
  3. We don’t agree on how to deploy military forces in the Middle East or otherwise around the world.
  4. We don’t agree on the basics of immigration reform, or for that matter, who can or can’t enter the United States, short or long-term.
  5. We don’t agree on gun control, with our interpretations of the Second Amendment light years apart.
  6. We don’t agree on how to address poverty and homelessness in our own nation, let alone abroad.
  7. We don’t agree on how to address controlled substances, or whether the war on drugs is worth continuing in anything resembling its current form.
  8. We don’t agree on where to set minimum wage, or if a minimum standard of living should be possible if minimum wage is what one earns working full-time.
  9. We don’t agree on who has the right to be married, even though the Supreme Court has ruled on it.
  10. We don’t agree on climate change, whether it is a scientifically proven global concern, and if it is, how much a priority it should be for U.S. business policy and financial attention.
  11. We don’t agree on what constitutes a basic education, or what we can hope to expect in the form of presumed literacy and interpretation skills by the time a person reaches adulthood and takes on the responsibilities of independent living.
  12. We don’t agree on an approach to reasonable tax reform or the proper tax structure for the rich, the middle class, or the poor.

That is an awful lot that drives us apart. All of those involve valuescurrently reflected in lawsthat we do not seem to share or want to share.

So my ultimate two questions are simple: What shared values do we maintain as a vast majority? And if we can’t find enough of them, where do we go from here?

Perhaps we still maintain shared values around the hope that our children will thrive, our government will remain in humble service to the people who select its leadership, that charitable activity will be lauded, and that criminal activity will be addressed with justice. Yet even as I form those thoughts, I am inevitably driven to the specifics of definition and implementation, and find us back at war among our various convictions about how we bring such affirmative notions into everyday reality.

I guess in the end there really aren’t 12 reasons we vilify. There’s just one: We vilify when we fear the imposition of someone else’s will on our own that crosses the bounds of our most cherished values. Daunting challenge to overcome, don’t you think? And as we let it get out of hand and don’t find a way to bridge the gap, the likelihood that we can find any unifying shared values at all diminishes in our anger and ultimate silence. That’s when we lose everything, and damn if we don’t seem to be hell-bent on flushing away almost 300 years of what we thought was shared progress.

Sometime when I listen to the anonymous, unfiltered invective swelling all around me, I wonder if we ever truly shared it at all.

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This article originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

Photo: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times.