• Posted: May 18, 2016 17:47:21
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For many many years, I’ve considered myself an independent when it comes to politics. That stance goes way back to high school, when I somehow found myself elected to Student Council and subsequently drafted to run against my best friend for Student Council President. Until then I had no sense of government or the potential for collective action. Yes, I knew government and politicians existed. Back in early grade school, I puzzled over arguments I overheard as to who would make a “better” President, Kennedy or Nixon. And I puzzled still more when one of them won and some of the adults around me shook their heads in dismay. And when Kennedy was assassinated, I could see the distress on many people’s faces, but I really didn’t understand that distress. And so it went, me hardly paying attention or understanding much about government until high school.
It was when I got to Student Council that my eyes began to open. People were talking about doing things, doing them collectively, intoxicated by the apparent power they now wielded. And they were also talking about establishing new standards for behavior, rules everybody would be required to follow. On a gut level, I reacted. “Rules? Who needs those stinking rules?”
Yes, my first instinct was defiance toward anything that would potentially limit my freedom. And so too, that is the current mindset of many Americans who call themselves Conservative. They shudder at restrictions of any kind, and say, “Fuck no. The government can go fuck themselves.”
But think about that statement for a second. Who is “the government”? In this country, the government is supposed to be us. We are the government. Not some dictator. Not some military junta. Not some monarch, high priest, or elite group of monied capitalists putting the squeeze on the rest of us. But the truth is, many of us, Conservatives and not, have chosen to not participate in the process of governing ourselves. And, why? Because the process is difficult, frustrating, and often yields results we are not completely comfortable with. It is far easier to demonize “the government” as something disconnected from us, something other than us, something whose main objective is to control and exploit us.
So, what happens to government when citizens who don’t believe in the processes of government take to the campaign trail, get themselves elected to government, and then proceed to obstruct, dismantle, corrupt, and pervert government and its institutions in service to their own personal objectives? What happens is that government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” literally becomes government by some group of people other than “the people”. It becomes something we all begin to hate and would like to see done away with.
Yes, we stand and look at our towns and cities. We see cherished local businesses struggling and then closing. We feel our own jobs being eliminated. We feel new government regulations restricting our ability to adjust and adapt. We feel competition from foreign countries and competition from immigrants coming into our country. We feel ideas we’ve put our trust in coming under attack from changes in laws and court decisions. We feel we have no control, no choice, no option for moving on. We feel crowded, pinched, and disrespected, worked to death and left as litter beside the road. And we are getting angry, angrier, and more angry.
But the truth is, it is we who have failed. We have failed to look beyond our own lives, needs, and aspirations. We have failed to take advantage of opportunity available to us since birth in this country, opportunity to take control, participate, work with our neighbors, work with all citizens of this country, to hammer out objectives for government that will help make all of our lives worth living, not just a few.
The process is still open. We still have a chance to participate. We will not be shut out, looked over, discounted, ridiculed, or left behind as long as we are willing to put our prejudices aside, listen with intent to truly understand, and offer constructive ideas and efforts that will benefit all U.S. citizens and not just a few.
Allegiance to one party or another and its sometimes parochial ideas can feel like our own voice is being amplified within a chaotic political process. But it is an illusion. To my mind, we best serve our own best interests, and the best interests of all citizens, when we come to all debates with an open mind, willing to listen to the concerns of all sides, before trying to decide what course of action would have the best outcome for all involved.
For conservatives fearful of losing more cherished ground to progressive ideas, putting ideas up for open debate is a scary prospect. It holds the potential for even more uncomfortable loss. But when one actually participates openly and honestly in political processes, one gains emotional investment in new ideas that have great potential for good. One gains investment because one has a hand in forging those new ideas. And there is great satisfaction to be gained bringing those ideas to fruition and witnessing the good they can create.
The thing is, though, even the best ideas with the best of intentions are seldom perfect. Political process and political investment needs to be humble, not arrogant. It needs to be willing to monitor consequences and results and be willing to revisit the issues in order to make changes that address unforeseen problems that have arisen.
I once interviewed a set designer for theatre productions. He told me that aspiring set designers often think of their creations as “works of art”, whole unto themselves. But that isn’t a healthy attitude, he said. A successful set needs to serve the play. If the set doesn’t help the play succeed, then the set is a failure, no matter how “cool” it seems on its own. The same can be said of legislation forged of political process. If, in the end, the quality of life for everyone. and health of the overall economy and environment is not served by the legislation, then the legislation is a failure.
Be ye Conservative or Progressive, for each new issue this country will face, please please put aside all your strongly held prejudices and listen intently until all concerns have been thoroughly understood. Then put forth your best ideas until some doable solution is found that will both benefit and satisfy all Americans, not just a few. And then be willing to honestly monitor results and make whatever changes are necessary to make life in America a success for all Americans.
Sunday, May 25th, 2014