Often times, some of the most conspicuous observations on societal ills come from individuals living outside the conflicted society. Dozens of my closest friends, citizens of overseas nations, have been sharing their thoughts on America's laundry list of internal conflicts in the lead up to the United States Congress considering forcing our dysfunction on the rest of the world through a breech of our debt ceiling.
One of the questions I was asked by a Norwegian friend has me fixated on its implications:
"Does America hate itself?"
My patriotic internal voice leapt out with a sarcastic response, "Of course not, America loves itself deeply! We're the best nation on the entire planet, just listen to our politicians."
It's taken me days to process this exchange for what it truly implies about the state of America, not simply the state of American government, but the state of American society (the larger definition of America, the one which includes all her people in one union). I've come to a saddening realization forcing me to reform the answer to my friend's original question:
"America doesn't hate itself, but unfortunately and increasingly, American citizens are hating each other."
This is the way a disturbing number of our politicians, pundits, and media prefer it. And in recent years their preference has turned to active design. A divided America is easier to control, easier to fool, and easier to lie to. By pitting one side of America against the other in increasingly divisive manufactured crises, the workings of our entire society become more and more just a game. A game where money and power (always synonymous) are bestowed to winners, and losers are everyone else.
Gun policy, abortion, gay rights, entitlements, immigration, tax policy, bailouts, war, and even now the right to vote -- one struggles to think of a national conversation where the strategy of choice has not become getting one slate of Americans to hate their political enemies with increasing ferocity. I'm not referring to one side hating the policies of the other side, I'm actually talking about true and visceral hated for actual people and groups of people.
American political rhetoric seems to reach new levels of shock and awe with each passing month, and with the recent shutdown of the federal government there's not a single educated person in Washington who won't now freely admit that our elected leaders have gone full throttle into game play. It's just a game, a game meant to be won. The real life consequences touching anyone other than our elected politicians (or those with enough money to get their attention) have evaporated into an inconsequential mist.
Real Americans with real concerns (no matter their political leanings) are lumped together as pawns, so far removed from the minds of those they elect; they become little more than talking points fodder. With technology providing American citizens with closer access to their so called representatives than at any time in the past, that access manifests itself as government via Twitter. Those who hate the hardest allow the politicians they elect to bathe themselves in a false sense of righteousness and perceived encouragement that every action they take in the name of "winning" is the will of the people.
In the middle between dysfunctional government and the negativity of the populace sits the media, at best complicit in the games being played, and at worst cultivating them. News no longer functions to communicate facts and inform the public, it has become a never ending string of diametrically opposed viewpoints professing that two completely opposite things are both as true as the sky is blue. Facts are made up daily, and truths change to fit the moment. Hypocrisy isn't even a problematic condition for the game anymore, it's readily accepted in the rules of play.
Can we look towards the Constitution as a source of inspiration for actual governance, instead of seeing it as the directions for a real life board game? This is the point in the piece where I'm supposed to shift gears and begin to suggest how we get out of this mess, how we move towards wiping the players off the board to start anew. But honestly, I don't see any realistic path forward without radical (and I mean truly radical) change. We're capable of it, but our history has shown this kind of change often manifests with deeply unpleasant side effects.
This should be the part in this piece where I remind everyone that every vote matters, and that our right to vote gives us the government we have, but it's becoming less and less true over time. As long as our elections have the taint of huge sums of money, and are carried out over years of unending crazy -- voting won't solve the problem.
Our government is supposed to be a reflection of us, the people, that's surely one thing Americans would agree on. So I merely suggest that we end the denial on both sides. Admit that we have a problem, and that problem is: we hate each other, and our representatives use this condition (and the power it gives them) to play games with our lives.
Perhaps if we stopped the hatred, fear, animosity, and rancor we could make better choices in life (hopefully better choices at the voting booth) leading to better outcomes for the country as a whole, as one nation.
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union...." The key word is "Union!"