“The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore.”— Vincent Van Gogh, Painter
One might make the same claim for politics in the Republic. Reading the daily political news is tantamount to sailing a mono-hull in a hurricane. It leaves the intrepid reader hungering for relief. Giving voice to an opinion, one way or another exposes the intrepid individual to assault from both sides. Extremism hangs in the air like pollen on a humid spring day. It permeates every barrier. People who are not allergic are surprised by the sudden attacks of sneezing while experienced allergy sufferers head to the stock of allergy pills. The negative energy pervading the air is the greatest I’ve felt since the riots of 1968. Frightening for those of us who lived through the insanity.
The vitriol of 1968 was coherent; it was a policy donnybrook. The current chaos appears to be cultural. The rise of Donald Trump as a Republican caught me by surprise. A darling of the Democrats and a friend of several Civil Rights activists, he donated loads of money in those directions. His statement of policy direction, particularly economic and trade policies, worried my little head. Oh, by the way, I found his persona unpalatable, but there he was-brash, braggadocio, and paternal. Following the election, I settled in with popcorn to see what would happen next. The plot took one surprise turn after another. I must say, I didn’t see any of it coming. As a president, he performed as well as or better than most. A surprise because business is radically different from good policy. The din from the gallery did not settle as I expected. The tempo picked up and continues accelerating. I backed off smartly to review, consider and reflect.
American voters appear to consciously, or unconsciously, crave balance. On average they change executive leadership focus every eight years. The same voters change the balance of power in the Senate and House with the same rhythm. Rhetorical crescendos are beating politics into a gale rise and ebb to the beat of the elections every couple of years. Pattern disruptions such as Johnson, Nixon, and Carter add interest, vitality, and sometimes great national sorrow as in the loss of President Kennedy. We, the American people, have learned to sail in these storm-tossed seas.
This storm is different. Gale force winds are tearing the sails. High seas are breaking the ship apart. The anger between individuals and groups is deep and unyielding. Friendships are ending, and people are drawing into themselves in fear. The drop in the barometric pressure of freedom and liberty is alarming.
I love this country not because it is perfect, but because it keeps trying. I love the ideal of not agreeing with someone and defending that someone’s right to say it. The pressure to erase and change history demeans the continuing lessons that can be learned. The pressure to deny a culture demeans potential growth. We are Americans, not hyphenated ancestry. Our culture is the product of all cultures blended in a cauldron over a fire of freedom. No one is absconding with another’s culture by cooking its food or learning its dances. We are honoring its advent to America. People’s private lives are their private lives, and now it’s codified…why not celebrate the formal acknowledgment?
Before we rip this country to shreds and each other with it, take a step back. Look at where we came from and where we want to go. Thanks to this country, more people in more countries vote than have ever had a say in the future before. Slavery has been eliminated except in a very small geographic corner of the world. The fight to eradicate must be carried on. The USA has done some evil deeds, but the system has exposed the evil, tried to punish the evil doers and modified the processes to prevent a future of those same evils. The USA has conquered many lands and returned them to their peoples. The returns were sometimes clumsy and bedeviled, but returned they were. The USA has done and continues to do great good. When the world is hungry, we do our best to feed it. When the world suffers great pain and suffering, the USA sends its best. We need to keep that pattern alive and well.
As for the Chief Executives, the Presidents, I haven’t liked any in totality. I don’t think I’d like Donald Trump personally, but I certainly can’t say he’s evil or vile. I think he’s performed better than many. I thought I’d like to meet President Eisenhower until I understood fully what he allowed Dulles brothers to pull. Talk about falling off a pedestal. I think George W. Bush is probably a very nice person, but his actions as President were unforgivable no matter his intentions (the Patriot Act, NDAA, DHS, the invasion of Iraq). President Obama didn’t seem to like the USA or its people very much, but he did some very positive things. President Clinton made me crazy, but he balanced the budget and successfully sorted out several knotty issues. I loved President Reagan, but he made some monumental mistakes. They are all just people shopworn by life in the political lane. Some aspire and even reach greatness, but most simply succeed in keeping the Ship of State upright.
The Republic works. Millions wish to enter the United States because the Republic works. The execution is not perfect, but the framework is sound. Let us not allow the Ship to founder on the shoals of chaos.