THE BLOG

What Does Hurricane Sandy Have to Do With Democracy?

10/31/2012 09:18 am ET | Updated Dec 31, 2012

Granted this is a stretch, and it's also subjective. But just be patient, because the connections are here, at least in this case. Just having come back to the States to work closely with a family group in upstate New York before I head to Colorado, I was camped out at the local Marriott Hotel when the hurricane hit and for some days before. I was technically safe, even though we had to suspend our work for the past few days. So we could speak on the phone, Skype, and I could work on my writing, read, watch television and think a bit.

Before the storm, the major networks seemed to be going non-stop about the Presidential election and about which weather mishap and which occurrence, big or small, could favor the slight edge this or that poll was giving to either candidate. Wow, what a shift from watching the news in Italy, particularly the international news networks that showed many other countries besides us. But coming closer to the point, there is something about the way the states and localities and people devastated by Hurricane Sandy are receiving national and local governmental and human support that is refreshing but also a reminder that we are interdependent. Which in turn, in terms of where my thinking has gone, is a reminder that to have a democracy, there has to be the motivation to care enough so there is cooperation and collaboration.

Hoping that Obama will win has become much more urgent for me since I've hit American shores, where the buzz doesn't seem to stop. But what continues to bother me is the polarization, with little to no sense that we have something to gain by cooperation with those who care to solve problems rather than insult the integrity of anyone who isn't echoing the same lines. This is one of those issues that is, for me, hard to get, because the alternatives seem so obvious. Upon reflection they seem so very much part of any concept of democracy that they should be obvious to more of us. When we think of democracy, many of us think of freedom although real freedom requires responsibility lest it really be anarchy. It is not as formless as a new revolution with no plans.

Come to think of it, if we have two groups who seem to want to demean and detract from each other in ways that become ends to themselves, the very notion of democracy is in grave trouble. If we are at a point where we can't get that we need the odes to structure and tradition and sound economics of some conservatives as well as the sometimes more open and adventurous and socially conscious liberals -- both aspects -- we are deluding ourselves. I used to kid around that if we could get together some bleeding heart liberals (as I include myself), some Jewish accountants (I can say that more easily being Jewish) and many people in the middle or to the side to work on the effectiveness of education and social programs, we would be so far ahead. It doesn't seem that funny now where each side is promising an America which is the one that is worth saving and fighting for, and predicting dire consequences if that side doesn't get in.

We are missing this key ingredient: the framework where democracy implies and insists on the motivation to work together as the people to solve problems. Once we say that if your party gets in, I'll do everything to defeat you, we lose the civic responsibilities that democracy demands. As of now the whole thing is scary, not just if the "other guys" win. It doesn't seem we are friends, basically on the same team or part of the same whole where we are motivated to investigate, devoted enough to our country and to each other so we can generate the curiosity to investigate solutions that can benefit us as a nation.

This is not about ideology only but on practicality. I am old enough to remember social programs that worked, programs that geared one social worker being assigned to one foster care family and that resulting in three or more kids becoming productive confident human beings who went to school, worked and didn't join the prison system. I see too little of that motivation to work together -- not to prove we are right and we can demean our neighbors -- but to find out together how to compromise and how to respect evidence as well as belief systems.

One note about bullying here. We hear that our job is to teach our kids civility and compassion. Well, you know that actions speak louder than words, and once we continue to dehumanize our neighbors or declare them freaks if they are gay or poor or immigrants, we are demeaning the very notion of a nation, certainly of a democracy.

New Yorkers have a reputation, certainly amongst ourselves, of rising magnificently to the occasion whenever there is a dire emergency -- you know, like this one -- Hurricane Sandy. So then the urgency of democracy deserving a different level of interest in helping each other, could be a concept we need altogether urgently in these days that need less anxiety in the air. Perhaps there would be less anxiety if we knew cooperation was at hand, whoever it is that wins the race.