I stood in my kitchen. I was tenderizing chicken. Beating the holy hell out of it. Destroying it, really. I turned to my wife who sat at the counter with her laptop. I yelled.
“Don’t you understand? We lose! It’s over! We lose!”
I beat the chicken some more. Killed it again, really.
My wife was sweating. She was back from a run, therapy from a bit of apoplexy brought on by the government shutdown and the rampant ridiculousness surrounding it. Somewhere along the way she flipped off a guy and broke her phone. In that order. I think.
“Just stop looking at the computer,” I screamed. The kids were napping. “We lose!”
The chicken didn’t look like chicken anymore.
Indeed, it’s over. We lost.
Oh, who? Not the Willis family specifically. We’re fine. I won at poker the other night. The kid won his last two baseball games. He turned on two pitches so hard last night, he made my chicken pounding look mediocre.
Who lost? America. All of it.
Who is to blame? America. All of it.
And, best I can tell, there is only one thing that can save us.
I stood in the pantry last night. I was ostensibly there for bread crumbs, but I found myself thinking about how everyone was screaming at each other, pointing fingers, and blaming the wrong people for the wrong things. Worse, no one—and I mean not a single person—was actually listening.
It’s Obama’s fault! It’s the GOP’s fault! I’m smarter than you, because I watched FOX today! I’m smarter than you because I watched Jon Stewart last night!
Nope. We’re all idiots, because we’re screwing up a perfectly good country because we don’t listen anymore, and we don’t expect our leaders to do so either.
Get this: one of my best friends and I are currently engaged in three very long-lasting arguments.
1) Whether George Thorogood or Steve Miller is worse
2) Whether a silverback gorilla or a grizzly bear would win a fight
3) Whether we would rather face off against a horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses
These debates have taken several hours out of several nights of my life over the past six months. Notable about them in this context: the amount of listening that took place. We and the people who engaged with us listened more than we talked. It was heated at times, but there was mutual respect and constructive dialog. (Most of the time. Bad to the Bone, my ass).
“We need real statesmen!” my wife screamed from her computer.
“There is no such thing anymore!” I yelled back.
I crushed a bag of goldfish crackers and breaded the chicken with it, because what’s the damned difference anymore?
It was actually an email discussion with my Thorogood-friendly friend that sent me into the pantry in the first place and had me asking, “Are we actually doomed? Is there anything that can happen than will make Americans start listening to each other?”
I couldn’t come up with one thing. Not a damned thing. Everything that occurred to me was either Idealist Fantasia or had already been proven fruitless.
I have lots of friends who are a lot smarter than me. So, I spent a few hours prodding them via social media outlets with this question:
Honest question: What, if anything, could happen that would bridge the American dialogue chasm? Looking for real tangible possibilities.
I’ve spent hours reading what people sent me, watching videos, and genuinely doing something I wish everyone could do: listening.
I’d like to share some of what I received, ending with what may be the only solution for a doomed America. (Note: I’m not attributing any of this for privacy reasons, but if the people quoted want credit, please take it in the comments. Also, I’ve edited quotes and cherry-picked from conversations for clarity purposes.)
One of the most popular answers to my question involved the one thing that has proven in the past, if ever so briefly, to bring America together: disaster.
One friend wrote, “A devastating national tragedy – and even then it would mostly be to placate the masses. System is broken. Divide is massive.”
I thought of the same thing, and then I thought of Hurricane Katrina, and how our focus became less on coming together and more blaming either the people of New Orleans or the failed federal response. The water hadn’t receded before we stopped listening and started fighting among ourselves.
Of course, Katrina only affected the Gulf Coast and there was a lot of blame to go around internally.
Someone else suggested a true financial disaster in which the American dollar collapsed. While that might work as a reset, it’s hard to imagine a place where the oligarchy doesn’t come out of that scenario still on top.
So, what would bring all of America together. Of course! Another massive terrorist attack! But wait…
“Instinctively thought a 9/11 type event,” wrote one man. “Then thought, that’s what started us on the road to where we are today.”
And that left us with the real problem.
Wrote one friend: “At this point it might only be a disaster that was against (the government) directly.”
And other: “Something absolutely catastrophic. Like 100 times worse than 9/11. How’s that for depressing?”
By far, the biggest response was the idealists and the people who can see all the problems, but aren’t sure where to start in actually doing something about it. I am the patron saint of the Cherry-Pickers.
Indeed, these are people who, like me, believe the problem is multi-faceted and needs not just one thing fixed but dozens of them at the same time. Each of the suggestions below is something with which I would agree. I would also agree that you won’t see any such thing happen in my lifetime, let alone all of them.
For starters, we have to fix a broken fourth estate.
Said an American who now lives overseas, “A responsible media would neutralise talking point bullshit. Would have to dismantle all echo chambers. I think people are able to shop for info that panders to their bias. The media market is glad to serve that bias up for profit, increasing balkanisation and tribal allegiance over fact. 30+ yrs ago America got its news at 6PM from three people in total. I’d like to think those three people (i.e., Cronkite) felt a special responsibility to inform with facts.”
That friend also admitted, “Never gonna happen.”
If we can’t fix the messed up media, maybe it’s about doing what my wife wants to do and seeking out real statesmen. “The American people needs to have worthwhile leadership come forth, and not who the Dems/GOP think we want,” said a commenter. The question is, how do we do that?
“Campaign finance reform?” asked one friend. “As it is now, we’ve got oligarch pols who are so rich they’re used to always getting their own way. I don’t see how you blow up CNN and FOX News. Gotta work around them.”
Other suggestions included:
- Eliminating two-party politics by removing or adding third and fourth
- Eliminating PACs
- Ending the electoral college
- Public campaign funding to reduce special interests
- Constitutional amendment firing an ineffective Congress
- Setting a tiny campaign spending maximum
- Web, twitter, Facebook, and public access TV as only outlets for messaging
- Decreasing pay and benefits for leaders so it’s a labor of love and not profit
- Holding politicians accountable for fiscal shortfalls in their districts
- These are wonderful suggestions, but I think even the people who suggest them would agree they are pie-in-the sky. They might event actually agree with a Canadian friend who suggested, “Most realistically possible answer? All the old guard dies and takes their outdated views with them.”Someone else said, “Actually, what we need is a Gen X’er in charge who really hasn’t been in national politics too much , who doesn’t care about the the old way to do things, who doesn’t want to blame either side just wants to fix the mess and move on after 4 yrs.”
But to do all that, you need voters, and, yes, that’s a problem, because there are a lot of people who think that process is rigged, too.
“Gotta think it starts w/figuring how to ‘fix’ redistricting,” said one politically active friend. “Too many politicians in uncompetitive districts spells disaster. Ironic that in creating solid R & solid D districts, politicians have abandoned capitalism when it comes to House elections.”
And so, we’re left with me standing in the kitchen, screaming at my wife, and holding a meat tenderizer high above my head. It’s not pretty, because we’re all…
Many of my friends were just me standing there in the pantry wishing they could find the breadcrumbs. They didn’t have solutions. They only had the same lament as I. Here’s just a selection of quotes.
“Unfortunately, absolutely nothing. Real debate and discussion have been replaced with screaming the party line.”
“Everything I can think of has all sorts of moving parts and any one of them breaking could make the whole process fail.”
“Since ‘decaying infrastructure leads to horrifying bridge collapse’ didn’t move the needle, I’m stumped.”
“Politics has always been dirty and divisive, but in the past 10-20 years politicians have been treating it as a zero-sum game. It’s become more of a sport; victory can be measured by your own wins or your opponent’s losses. It has also become more of a spectator sport, with people choosing and rooting for sides instead of compromises or solutions. As for specific ideas on how to change that … I’ve pondered it for a long time, but I have nothing.”
“Leaders should be allowed to learn and have their positions evolve without being labeled as ‘flip-floppers.’ We as a citizenry should know when to demand decisiveness and when to demand thoughtful investigation. We should demand more than soundbites from our politicians, and hold each other as citizens accountable for being properly informed.”
“I have nothing. I want to say something regarding children, but I can’t think of anything.”
“All I know is the last president who genuinely brought Congress and the American people together was Richard Nixon.”
“Nothing. And that’s the most depressing word I’ve ever written.”
THE WAR-HAWK BAIT
Yes, we’re all depressed, because historically, disaster has held us together temporarily, select reforms have worked until puppet-masters found workarounds, and, in the end, we’re sitting here in a decades-long war with our civil liberties in shards while our government shuts down in a battle over our own citizens’ healthcare and how to pay for it.
That’s when we need a real enemy. That’s when we need an enemy who isn’t some dictator we’ve propped up over the years or sadistic genocidal monster we’ve ignored for longer. What would it take? A real threat to the world’s last superpower. Somebody tough enough to meet us on our own soil.
One friend said, “Sadly, it would probably take an invasion or some fundamental undermining of religion to reorient extremist positions.”
Said an American veteran: “Invasion from without by a force strong enough to be a credible threat to America and/or the world.”
It’s hard to argue with that, but it’s not clear whether that enemy exists, and it’s certainly not what we want. And if that enemy isn’t coming, it leaves us with the old Pogo trope: “”We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Indeed, if we’re not to come together, then it’s civil war.
“At this point, breaking up the U.S. into 4-5 countries isn’t the worst idea I’ve heard,” said a friend of mine.
She was echoed by another who said, “Sad to say but default response to biggest political divides in American history (one I don’t endorse) has been ‘kill the other.'”
But you know, I don’t want to kill you, and I hope you don’t want to kill me. I want both of us destroying that chicken together. Fortunately, there are a ton of people who share that view, and there’s not enough chicken.
This was the very first response I got on Facebook when I asked the question there, and it came from a friend with whom I don’t always agree politically, but have always shared a mutual respect:
“I’ve always said that we have to stop vilifying each others’ motivations. We can disagree on policy, but don’t assume the other person’s motivations aren’t as pure as your own.”
That was so succinct, it broke my heart. It’s the very basis for how we begin to listen to each other. Remarkably, many of the comments were sweet echoes to that.
A neighbor commented, “Time to think of others first. We have created a society wholly focused on getting ours first. The simple fact is the more you give- the more you get. Greed is not good in any form.”
If we can somehow move to doing that ourselves, it might be something we can convince our leaders to do. It hasn’t been that long since we had leaders who knew how to listen. Another friend of mine who is also a veteran referenced Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil: “They obviously didn’t agree on much, but going into critical meetings, they both started from a point of wanting to make the system work. That’s pretty profound.”
The problem is, as another friend of mine (an expert on human behavior), pointed out, self-delusion is all-too easy. “Take any issue, find believers on both sides,” he said. “Present all of the evidence for both positions. Result? Everyone comes away more firmly attached to their previous belief. They (we) select evidence to back our present belief and reject anything else.”
Human nature is a bitch, one compounded by our constant addiction to TV, internet, and social media.
“Folks making the decision to shut off the mindless TV spigot would help reduce echo,” said a reliably introspective friend. “Quieter minds might then realize on a larger more serious scale that all sides are equally being fucked on a continuous basis.”
That’s why one friend privately suggested a controversial means by which everyone could get on the same page: psychedelic drugs.
“They give modern humans a 4-5 hour window in which all that brainwashing is removed. Barriers and walls are knocked down.”
Has it come that far?
Don’t ask me. I beat the hell out of a chicken last night, and I still don’t feel better. Which brings me to the only thing that could possibly bring Americans together.
That’s right. I couldn’t count the number of people who looked to another galaxy as a way to fix what’s broken on this little slab of land between the Pacific and Atlantic.
The very first response from three very smart friends:
“Alien invasion. (Not joking. That’s all I’ve got.) “
“How about faked alien invasion? The Watchmen method.”
And that’s where we leave it. We leave it with a 1990s Hollywood film. We leave it with this:
The only way Americans can come together as one is to have a common enemy from another planet that wants to kill us.
And you know what? I don’t know that I disagree with that proposition.
Do you? Do you have great ideas? Let me hear them.
I’ll be in the kitchen.
And I’ll be listening.
A lot of friends shared a lot of things with me. I’ve gotten to some of them, but not all. Still, I wanted to leave them here for you to do with what you like.
EMPIRE OF ILLUSION, by CHRIS HEDGES