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
CENTER FOR DELIBERATIVE DEMOCRACY
HOW LEGISLATORS VIEW THEIR CONSTITUENTS
I like your wife’s comment, “We need real statesmen!” When someone does come in and truly speaks for the people they represent, they are quickly marginalize by the opposition and eventually, their own party. The opposition is quick to call them extreme (see Rand Paul or Ron Johnson). If they do not fall in line of their party, they lose opportunities or chairs (likely to happen to Joe Manchin). All because is is easier to play the blame game (guilty here!) than come with real solutions. Then when you have real solutions, they are ignored because you have played the blame game. Damn you Heller!
I think the frustrated need to human-up and get themselves and their friends and their friends friends to the polls. For local and national elections.
For better or worse, real change in America happens through the ballot box (and the courts that the ballot box stocks).
We have to become activists. I don’t want to, but if I don’t participate, all my moaning and wailing is a hypocritical waste of breath.
Get out the vote. The demographics will, eventually I believe, lead to greater sanity.
I’ve got to say I don’t think frustrated means non-voter. I don’t want to speak for a whole group, but in my case frustration is intensified by the fact that I do actively participate in government. I cast ballots in big and small elections. I keep a fairly close watch on what my representatives are doing (partially because of the business I’m in), and I still feel like I’m not being represented.
I absolutely agree that getting people to participate is important. I just don’t think it’s fair to assume frustration equals inaction.
Want to add – really well done on this post. It’s awesome to see such varied responses. Any time spent even trying to come up with an answer to the original question has to be a positive move toward bridging that gap.
excellent discussion and really enjoyed your summation.
that being said, i’m now fully stuck on the grizzly versus silverback debate.
I have begun to reply to all those who send me those slanted, blame mongering links and e-mails that perhaps their time might be better spent working toward solutions to our problems. And because I made a personal resolution to be constructively critical I send along suggestions on how they could pitch in and work toward solutions. This could also be construed as a way to narrow down that ol’ facebook and twitter’s followers list.
I’m serious, break up the USA.
Nicely compiled Brad. You forgot the disbelieving observers, the ones who yelled, “wait, they can DO that?!?” and “c’mon America, you can pull it together!”, and then turned off the internets and went outside.
Oh wait. Never mind. The D.O.’s (i.e. me) never actually responded to anything because they have been dismissed in the past by drunken republicans as “not being from around here” and have gotten in the habit of keeping quiet in international debates.
I personally tend to agree with your neighbour who said “Time to think of others first. We have created a society wholly focused on getting ours first”, about creating a culture where the focus is off the individual and on the group. United we stand, divided we fall, etc.
But what do I know. I’m just a socialist feminist from the 6th happiest country in the world.
1) George Thoroughgood- I’ve seen both live and at least Steve Miller can pull a show out of his ass.
2) Silverback gorilla because I think they’re just close enough to humans to be really mean and dirty in a fight.
3) 100 duck-sided horses as I’ve been bitten by a regular size duck and the thought of just how big the bill on a horse-sized duck would be frankly scares the shit out of me.
1. Miller>George. “Take the Money and Run” is better than anything in Thorogood’s catalog.
2. Silverback. A Silverback has intelligence, speed, agility, climbing abilities and unparalleled strength. The bear is a lumbering oaf. It’s Butterbean vs a Heavy Weight MMA Champ. Sure, the Bean might connect once or twice, but its not going to end well.
3. 100 duck size horses. Ducks are mean. You don’t want any of that.
After your initial post, I hovered over the comment window for 20 minutes. I wrote stuff. I erased it. Repeat. Finally I gave up and moved on. The problem is simply too daunting.
But a few things I retracted could possibly help in some small way.
1. All politicians should be held to something similar to inside-trader laws. It should be illegal for them to receive any kind of kickbacks, corporate favors, payola, or anything of the kind not only for their personal money, but also for their campaign funds. Straight political donations only, with no promises of favor. Maybe all donations should be required to be anonymous. Breaking these rules means time in jail and expulsion from office.
2. All bills submitted for approval should be short enough to read cover to cover in two hours, with a zero tolerance for pork-barrelling. If it is not directly related to the subject of the bill, it gets removed.
3. Politicians should have all of their own benefits and pay affected by things like governmental shutdowns or Obamacare. They shut down the government, they don’t get paid. They create health care legislation for America, they use that plan.
4. Thorogood is nowhere near the talent of Steve Miller. I’m not a Steve Miller fan, but The Joker was a great album.
5. A Grizzly Bear would slaughter a Gorilla in direct combat. The gorilla could escape into a draw, but never win. I’d also enjoy the Grizzly/Alligator match-up. Or Grizzly/Polar bear – which has to have actually happened, since we now have the Pizzly bear in existence.
6. Ducks are mean. You do NOT want a Horse sized duck anywhere near you. A horse sized swan would be even worse.
7. I think a horse sized duck could beat a grizzly bear/gorilla tag team match.
8. You are right, we are all screwed.
Brad I have read and enjoyed many of your contemplations, but I rank this the top. for a long time I was deeply interested in politics, and disapponted in much of it.but thought a person could make a difference. if you study histolry you see many great civilisations have a 200 yr lifespan-we have passed that. I hate to think we cant negotiate through that, but I find it hard to see how we shall as polarized as its becoming-the corruption. the expectations of entitlement. the price a vote/politician can be bought for, the monetary favoritism. all I have is reduce politics/politicians, and increase the caring among our fellow man.
Let me take a moment to look at where we’ve moved in the past 30-50 years:
Racial Justice: Better by every measure
Nutrition: Better by every measure
Medical Care: More confusing now, but still much better on average.
Housing: Equality is better, houses are bigger on average. I’d count that as better.
Income: Flat recently, but far better than 30-50 years ago on average
Death by accident: Way down per captia
Death by murder: Way down per captia
Death by firearms: Way down
Death by cancer: down
You get the idea and maybe you don’t agree that all of these are better. Certainly there are horror stories in each of those areas, but things are still better than ever.
Have we peaked? Maybe. Are we doomed? I don’t think so. I think the various forms of media are louder than ever and only the sensational gets notice. Don’t let it get to you so much that you give up. Look up and hang in there.
Other options, one of which I suggested after hoping for the old guard’s death:
– Mandatory civics lessons and volunteer work among the poorest in their districts
– Term limits to avoid the 90% incumbency that inexplicably goes with 10% approval.
– And that youth movement? It needs to be sweeping. It needs to happen over the course of a few elections, before the new leaders get turned to the dark side by the old guard.
– Every representative should have to take a Turing test to prove they’re not a robot.
Racial Justice: Sure, but still a long way to go.
Nutrition: Debatable. America’s fatter than ever. More food is not the same as healthier food or better eating habits.
Medical Care: Sure, medical science has advanced, but access and affordability are terrible in the States.
Housing: Tell that to the millions who are still underwater or who once had a house. Bigger doesn’t equal better by a long shot.
Income: The bottom 80% of the population has been generally flat since the 60’s in real terms (had grown, but has since dropped back), and their share of overall wealth has dropped dramatically. Considering most other prices have increased while income has stayed the same, that means people have very little left over.
Firearms deaths: From the 90’s, but about the same as the 70’s, unless you mean per capita still. Still an embarrassment when compared to every other wealthy nation in the world.
Murder rate: Among whites it’s been mostly stable (and relatively low). It has dropped among minorities.
On top of all of this, you have to realize that there are those in power who are actively trying to dismantle advances. Stripping away voter protection, fighting against reasonable gun laws, cutting funding to welfare and food programs, hurting education, attacking healthcare reform, attacking science, fighting against environmental protection — the list goes on and on. So what improvements have been seen are being chipped away at. In the service of what?
I get your point. When I wrote “better”, I just meant better. Not best. Not done. I’d say that we mostly agree on the items I listed.
However, your reply does demonstrate one of the main themes that Brad has raised through this entire exercise, and that others have voiced. Nowhere in your response to you signal that you got my point! Only that you were eager to rebut my list even though we mostly agree. You were talking past me without hearing what I really said. Maybe you did get it, but there’s no sign of it. Getting it doesn’t mean you agree necessarily, but it does validate that we are having a conversation instead of a debate. That, in my mind, is a big part of the problem. My protest sign of the day now reads “More Conversation, Less Debate”.
Still love you anyway. 🙂
Fair enough, there is no judging panel awarding scores here (although one could argue that the voters fill that role in politics). But a conversation begins by finding a baseline of understanding. This usually means a real conversation begins with a small debate to figure out where each person is coming from. Then, once you’ve got an agreement on the problem at hand, discussion can move forward.
If one states “people are making more money now.” and someone else says “in what terms? $30k doesn’t go as far today as $8k did in the 60’s.”, then terms can be defined. Is the conversation about absolute dollar value? Real wage increase? Poverty? Government support? A particular income group? Mutli-income households? It certainly makes for a better talk than two people arguing over the value of a dollar.
Sadly, this seems to be something that is lacking in today’s politics (not only in the US). Reagan, Clinton, Gorbachev, Churchill, Trudeau, Mulroney, and pretty much any other leader of decades past knew how to publicly fight and privately negotiate. These days? That skill appears endangered at best. Again, I think we’re agreeing here.
Oh, and Brad:
1) Thorogood is worse by a mile.
2) Grizzly because Canadians are always better.
3) 100 duck-sized horses because cute.
I think my positions on the important issues are well known.
1) Thorogood is terrible. Steve Miller is the music played in hell.
2) Grizzly. Seriously. Jesus this isn’t close..and while it would be staggeringly inhumane to stage this fight…if it happened naturally and you just happened to have a camera and then put it on pay-per-view I’d pay $19.99.
3) Easiest one by far. A horse sized duck is a legitimately terrifying concept.
1) Throw the bums out! Every representative and senator needs to be defeated in their next election as follows: If you are democrat elect/vote for a new democrat. If you are republican elect/vote for a new republican. I’m not asking you to change your personal ideology. Just make sure that the new ones did not take any funding from unverifiable/secret sources (the kind of funding that Citizens United allowed).
2) The people of America need to wake up and realize that it isn’t really Democrats v. Republicans or Liberals v. Conservatives. Both of these groups serve the same masters. Those masters are the HAVES and they do whatever is necessary to keep their foot on the neck of the HAVE NOTS. This sounds like class warfare. Guess what….the HAVES have been practicing class warfare for generations. It’s time to fight back.
Would this work? I don’t know. I think it would be a good start.
My money references were all in real dollars which adjusts for inflation. My population reference were per captia. Most people don’t know I have an MBA, but I have studied time value of money and such. I just don’t like it clouding my writing when I’m making a larger point.
I’m sure you will find something in those statements that you’ll feel the need to correct. Send it directly to me. We’ve junked up Brad’s blog enough.
So I asked an expert. Dr. Patrick McMillan, Biologist, wildlife expert, and Host of (Emmy award winning) “Expeditions with Patrick McMillan” about the Gorilla vs Grizzly scenario. He agreed that if the Grizzly were to be able to get hold of the gorilla or get in one good hit with claw or tooth, that the gorilla is done for – BUT that he thinks the gorilla would most likely win the fight. It is partly a matter of maneuverability, but largely reach that tips it in favor of the gorilla. The gorilla has significant reach advantage and is very strong. He would run around the less mobile bear, and pummel him senseless. He just better not screw up and get hit by the bear, even once.
So there you have it.
I listened to LBJ’s “Great Society” speech and even drank the Kool-aid.
Go listen to it. It is timeless and still the order of the day.
One description of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and expect different results.
Media, schools, attention have altered the landscape — old ideas ingrained in modern thinking without viable results.
You can flip this view to the other side and only the names change and you hear it on Fox.
America’s greatness doesn’t come from Washington and never will. It comes from hard working people who do that for the promise of better. Government will never provide better. We have to look to ourselves and that gets harder and harder to do.
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