Our American Dilemma

(992 words)

American people, like people everywhere, have a nature.  And human nature is such that, sometimes, we place too much value in what we don’t understand and, by not understanding it, invest it with some mysterious and unmerited quality which defies expression.  And here, that is politics. Americans are doers and fixers. Why can’t we fix politics? Because the only way to fix politics will land you in jail. And therein lies the rub and the ensuing obsession.

Nowhere more than America, is as much attention paid to a subject which has so little logical or spiritual meaning.  As currently comprised, there is nothing to learn on the subject of American politics. There is only one thing to know.  It is an empty vessel of obsession and the real action and emotion here is with the individual, be they housewives, workers, entrepreneurs, artists or athletes.  “Are things worse than ever? What happened?”, we ask each other. I argue nothing has happened. America has always been bad at politics.

We Can Do Better

In many ways we’re doing better already.  I’m 36 which means I was born in 1982. Do that a little over three more times and it’s 1865 again.  There you’ll find America sewing up five years of committed and unadulterated slaughter where, for a time, two American political groups bathed openly in one another’s blood.  Just before the conflict began, one’s political persuasion became suspiciously predictable geographically—whether you lived above or below something called the Mason Dixon line. That seems a little confused and inauthentic if you ask me. Even today if a visitor wants to learn about our politics, he or she can hardly do so by speaking to the average American just as you couldn’t do so back then (what points would a northerner have made?  A southerner?)

We are trained from birth to be doers.  And doers flock to us from all corners of the globe.  But these comers are uniquely prepared to thrive in the American tradition because as a rule they are equipped with context–the comparison of their country of origin with their new country of adoption.  That is the American Dilemma. We see how well immigrants do here. Is the answer, then, to make temporary immigrants of us all? Like human nature, politics isn’t going away. What American politics needs, like all discussions (it is supposed to be a discussion), is context and context is earned through the willing exposure to the unfamiliar.    

Politics is not the art of doing.  Doing is not an art. Doing is doing.  Politics is listening and the art of listening is learned by the act of traveling, anywhere, and seeing other places which, of course, people in other places do over and over again when they come to America.   And in so doing they find that in America there is no such thing as a grand political body to pull apart and analyze. America instinctively places the individual so highly that it never allowed for the formation of a political body at all.  You can’t have something for nothing and in idolizing the individual’s will to power we sacrificed any communion with what lay beyond our immediate gaze. Contrast this with places like Spain, France, Germany, or Mexico where the spirit of the time flows free and basically true from its individual citizens.  Is this due their practise in travel with their close neighbors?

Can America Have It All?

American owes her power and influence to the pragmatic organization of her government and laws, not any particular skill with politics.  Maybe it is the genius of our founding documents which gives us the available space to abuse one another with hysterical political proclamations.  But this, as seen in 1860, has it’s durable limits. America is not perfect but if in business, or matters of civil and, to an extent, criminal justice, both for the wrongly accused and the victims of crime, you want a fair shake, a relatively level playing field, come to America.  And if you are here and you think you aren’t getting one, or if you aren’t currently getting one and think you can’t find one, then maybe you haven’t had a chance to see what is on offer in most of the world. As currently construed, these are worthwhile points of discussion.

On the other hand, as currently construed, American politics is not.  But some American majority will always be hypnotized by what currently passes as American politics—the big nothing.  This is shown by the ratings of the network and cable news channels. Though there are some signs, largely due the internet, that this is a passing, now multi-decade, phase, it will always be true that the least interesting and least effective aspects of our nature, and the entire natures of some, will remain fixated on this.  The pundits may be loud, appearing from time to time, or perpetually, on our screens and profiting by turning us against one another, but their contribution to what makes America interesting will remain safe and secure at zero. Just notice that and we’re on our way.

Perhaps the capstone or final growth stage to this grand experiment is to empower our young people to discover the world, always, itself, changing. Should that be our next national deployment instead of waiting on the next military deployment? In our truly noble quest to empower every individual we’ve lost something.  Freedom. How can you gain context through exploration when you owe the government the equivalent of a mortgage payment worth of college loans every month for the privilege of having sat in an air-conditioned echochamber for four years.  How can you know that the other side isn’t evil when you’ve never actually seen anything approximating that to give you some context in the matter?

One way or another America will be temporarily freed from the notion that within our politics lay some mystical quality deserving of our attention. The question is how.