By pretty universal agreement, this midterm election has been the worst, the stupidest in memory. "I am not a witch," the campaign ad starring Delaware's tea-partying Christine O'Donnell, states it for jaw-dropping inanity.
Rather than itemize the inanities once again---we have the media for that---let's stay with the phenomenon itself. Appalled at the campaign spectacle, and super-mindful that our many crises grow worse despite President Obama's best efforts---a wheezing economy, a Wall Street still more casino than utility, two wars at impasse, a collapsing infrastructure---conscientious Americans, from across the political spectrum, have got to be wondering:
Is this a culture that can save itself?
Right now, to judge by the inane brawl one week from the day we elect the lawmakers who presumably will pilot us the next two years through these crises, the answer has to be: No. We seem not to be a culture that can save itself---or even want to.
Of course, the most egregious evidence that ours is a culture that may want even to accelerate its self-destruction is the very fact that, as polls show, half the electorate will vote to return us to the (Republican) policies that brought us to our present ruination!
How'd we get here? Anger---legitimate anger grown white-hot, thus grown irrational and manipulable. Americans, never a patient lot, scared and hurting in this awful economy, and coming to perceive Obama-hope as hollow, grew vocal in their anger---which Democrats did not manage well and Republicans moved in to manipulate. Thus the stupid politics of the present moment. (I blogged earlier about harnessing that anger.)
What to do "going forward"? (This phrase, used by both parties, is clichéd but resonates deeply in Americans, reflecting us as a dynamic people.) For now, to save ourselves in this particular moment, Democrats must vote---and not be manipulated into sitting out this election. Happily, polls show the "enthusiasm gap" reducing; Democrats are waking up and smelling the peril.
But how to go forward after the election? No doubt columnist Frank Rich is right in predicting that, win big or small next Tuesday, the Republicans will continue stoking the public's anger all the way through 2012---in which case, forget forward motion. In a continuing gale of anger and inanity, with "liberal" and "conservative" already bashed into meaninglessness, who's up for more "debate"? Politically, we will be at impasse.
Perhaps if we stepped back, way-y-y back, and took the Olympian view, to ask the vital question---"Is this a culture that wants to save itself?"---we might help (and indeed save) ourselves. Instead of inserting more invective into the mix over the next two years, or doubling down on the bashing, all of which can only make impasse truly impossible, more useful would be to insert a new lens through which to view the mix.
In this way, we'd gain the distance to critique our actions, to see ourselves, as it were, as players on a stage---saving ourselves and our enterprise. The media, for example, viewing itself through this lens, might understand it's been acting more like a parrot than a watchdog. Lawmakers, the ones in place and the ones we're about to elect, might better consider the common good and see areas for bipartisan cooperation. And through this lens all of us (artists and entertainers included) can better see the damage that anger and inanity have inflicted---and move to repair it, by invoking our cultural capacities for (to name two) pragmatism and reinvention.
Meanwhile, back at the (political) impasse, pressing the question of how serious we are about saving ourselves gives the lie to Republican obstructionism and chaos-making.
So, rather than continuing to wonder the question, conscientious citizens from across the political spectrum should start asking it out loud, over and over, in whatever venue that needs to hear it: "Is this a culture that wants to save itself?"
Here's looking at you, my fellow Americans---through a new lens.
Carla Seaquist is author of "Manufacturing Hope: Post-9/11 Notes on Politics, Culture, Torture, and the American Character," a collection of op-eds, essays, and dialogues. Also a playwright, she is at work on a play titled "Prodigal" (www.carlaseaquist.com).
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