Upsidedowning and January 20, 2017
One year from today — January 20, 2017 we will be watching the inauguration of the next President of the United States. Trump? Clinton? Cruz? Sanders? One of the others? All flawed. Some seem to threaten the very fabric of our democracy. I am often asked by younger folks (you know, folks who are 40 or 50 are YOUNG to me) if I can remember a time when political conversation was this, well, nutty, this far off the rails, this unhinged from facts.
The honest answer is NO. Absolutely not. I remember well the campaigns of George Wallace, Gene McCarthy, Ross Perot, John Anderson, and I remember my high school infatuation with Barry Goldwater. None of these are comparable. This is a time when facts seem to matter little. Anger, make that rage, is in vogue.
It is as if our national identity, our political assumptions about integrity and well reasoned analysis of the national and world situation has gone down a rabbit hole. We have entered a period of UPSIDEDOWNING. What once was up is now down and…
Ridicule of others is now the currency to win votes. Wealth is either a measure of ones value or decadence. No space is left for the virtues of thoughtful dialogue, learning, humility. Intemperate statements are valued by the electorate. Reasoned and careful action by the current president is seen as weakness. No, I don’t recall a time like this in my memory when behavior like that of a junior high school bully is seen as a positive credential for a future president.
Of course there is a history as to how we got to this place. Persons, it seemed on all sides, decided it was better to demonize others than find common ground. You add the complexities of a modern world with 24/7 news coverage and throw in a large dose of racism, bank malfeasance (see or read THE BIG SHORT) and economic uncertainty and you come to the presidential race of 2016.
So, what’s a person to do? Honestly I don’t know — I have no big idea. I do remember the bumper sticker that read “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!”
Here is my small modest proposal. You and I, good reader have one year, 366 days (its leap year) to engage persons at a local level with good caring but critically factual conversation. My pledge is to every day speak to at least one person, preferably someone whose opinions differ from mine, and see what I can learn. What do I need to know to be a better citizen? And, of course, what can I share that encourages another person, perhaps a stranger, to understand that we are neighbors – even when we disagree. This might do a little bit to lower the temperature on the language that continues to boil over into vitriol.
I will do other things, of course, to help the candidate I believe who can best move us out of these mean-spirited times and contribute to our being a place of honest and constructive disagreements. It is what is called democracy. Depending on how high the stakes may be, I may do a lot besides talking with my neighbor and stranger trying to bring more light than heat to the political dialogue of our time. But for the next year (or until next November’s elections) I pledge to work toward honest, factual dialogue… that builds up rather than destroys.
My sense is that our nation can ill afford to elect a president who will encourage us to try ignorance. The stakes are too high — the world is too complex. We need cool wisdom and not hot revenge to make it through the challenges ahead. Meanwhile, I tell my young friends, those under 50, that “NO, I have never seen a political season like this; and, it is time to seek factual information and to speak honestly and respectfully.”
This is the stuff (honest dialogue and respectful disagreements) of a healthy democracy. This is the way to RIGHTSIDEUP our national life.