For my entire childhood and until the day she left for college, I shared a room with my sister. As far as rooms go, ours was dinky, by American standards weensy, just enough area for our trundle bed and a dresser. There was no real floor space to speak of, even with the lower bunk rolled all the way in—dinky. It wouldn’t have been so horrible really, if the stuff of my sister’s person had been better…contained. As she is my sister I will show her some measure of deference. I will not provide the sensitive details that would disclose the extent of her disarray, though I might expose her for what she once was: a maker of piles. It was hard for me—fastidious, compartmentalized me—to share space with someone completely disaffected by (her own) chaos. I’ve never been one for making or maintaining piles of things and here’s why. Piles always seem to consist of random things that in no way belong together, and usually something of import gets thrown into the mix only to get further piled upon. And nearly always comes the moment when in a fury, an overly anxious someone rips into the pile, upending it hither and yon, on the small chance that the item of import might be IN there! Lookers-on get sucked into the fury’s vortex; the storm rages on and on until the item is in hand. And here’s the thing about pile makers, they never make just one pile. There are more. Always there are more. Chaos. I was not okay with it. Back then, piles were the origin of many clashes, her fighting her piles, me fighting her piles, me fighting her over her piles, ugly. We could not find a way to peacefully co-exist. Enter my mother, of Swiss heritage, as it so happens, and neutral by nature. She suggested a fix: draw a line down the center of the room; pick a side. Well you can imagine how well that worked.
Two girls who despite being of the same species, of the same DNA, of the same space and time, of the same economics, the same culture, the same diet and cultivation, could NOT share 100 square feet. Ninety-nine point nine percent the same and she’s lucky she got out alive. Segue to our electorate. I know, big big stretch, but stick with me, because it’s politics that got me started on this whole shebang. I keep thinking about how polarized we are as a country. I have been thinking about this for some time and watching our willingness to compromise fade into nothingness. We have always had divisions and passionate argument on the other side of which we have always met and moved forward. Not anymore. We don’t do it in our bedrooms, we don’t do it in our cities, and our elected officials certainly aren’t doing it at all. To the latter, it is clear that rather than being catalysts toward some better mutual outcome, our elected officials are inert. Because my way is not your way WE go nowhere.
Here’s what’s moving these days: Mouths. Mouths are moving that’s for darn sure. Contentious opinion is no longer confined, contained, or refined in any way. Just like two teenagers locked in a dinky room, we are loud and obnoxious and not altogether factual. We shout from the rooftops because yelling and bluster has become the norm, is the only mode of communication that cuts through the noise. We flood our media with half truths and meme our outrage as if posting a caricature of our President as a monkey or as a Muslim elevates our discussion in any way. A bombastic man rises to champion racist, homophobic, misogynistic views claiming all the while that he speaks for the silent majority. Whoa. Instead of shutting him down, we give him a bigger megaphone. At the time of this writing (oh how I hope I hope I hope this changes) Donald Trump has a wide lead in the polls and has taken a second place (behind an equally creepy candidate) in the Iowa Caucus. How? Seriously, how? I am stupefied, utterly. How is it that this man is so insidiously persuasive? He doesn’t represent me. Not even close. And what of his followers? How is it possible that we share a species, the same space and time and planet? I wish I could draw a line down the middle and retreat to my corner, for now and evermore. When I go, I know I will be taking at least half the country with me.
On the opposing side of our upcoming election we have a man who openly declares himself a “Democratic Socialist,” a man who last night quite nearly edged out the all-along front-runner Lady Clinton. Who in the world could have imagined a Bernie Sanders against a Donald Trump? What balls Mr. Sanders has to use the term Socialist in a country that has for eight years unceasingly berated its President for being one. The term is used with such venom it would hardly seem the marketable thing to do to call oneself a Socialist. Yet he does. If most Americans took the time to understand what he means, most Americans would have to admit that Democratic Socialism is exactly what they yearn for.
Were that we could draw a line down the center of our country (or three or four, even better) and place ourselves according to our values; were that we could divide our nation’s resources, once and for all, to further be divided, dispersed or withheld in accordance to said values (necessary because we have differences a universe wide as to how resources should be managed). This scenario is almost as doable as asking two female teenage siblings to confine themselves to a dinky room.
My battle started and will end with community and social responsibility, which I believe we all should share. On this we do not all agree. Ours is a nation of rugged individualists focused on carving out and holding an ever bigger piece of the pie. How is it that just 62 people hold the same amount of wealth as the rest of us, all 3.5 billion of us? Why aren’t we more upset about the conditions that made this possible and the conditions which keep it possible? Perhaps we are too busy securing our own piece of pie, securing, holding and protecting to the death what is ours. Think I am being dramatic? Last week an “Occupier” of the Wildlife Refuge was killed in a gunfire fight. He and the militia he belonged to had spent a month holding a remote piece of Oregon in a dispute over public and privately-held lands. Justifiable civil disobedience? Government overreach? It took restraint on the part of our Federal Officers to resist this show of force, to wait it out. To this day some members still occupy Federal Property. With one of their brethren dead and several more under arrest, they wait. How’s that for sticking to principles? Forget compromise. Forget cooperation. Forgetaboutit.
We have a responsibility to our communities and sometimes that requires Government Regulation, which Conservatives hate because they say it hinders the free market and stifles job growth. I say we have a responsibility to our community of humans to keep them safe from things like poisoning an entire generation of kids who were told that their water (water their hardworking and in most cases poor parents were paying for) was safe to drink, when in fact it was toxic with lead. We need watchdogs ready, able and empowered to act on behalf of everyone, without the hindrance of politics and market considerations. Imagine if our Environmental Protection Agency did not exist? Should we not hold Corporate America accountable to US Environmental Law? Or do you think it’s okay to let power companies belch coal-fired emissions at will into your airspace? Is it okay if your city dumps millions of tons of raw untreated sewage into your bay? Would you mind terribly if that petroleum company, the one making massive record-breaking profits, contaminates your region with toxins and known carcinogens? It is absolutely not okay—even when it happens in someone else’s yard, not my own. Not okay.
To be continued…