Eight years ago, I wrote a piece and a follow-up that were published on Common Dreams. I reflected on the election season that was coming to an end. Barack Obama was so far ahead in the polls that it looked inevitable that he would win. My view of the country was that we were bubbling over with joyful anticipation and that we were making a giant step forward. I was still young enough to imagine myself growing old in a free and equal, prosperous, egalitarian land.
We have elected Donald Trump president of the United States of America. I keep trying to shake off the feeling that I'm waking up in the middle of a Back to the Future film. In the 1985 original, Christopher Lloyd's character scoffs at the idea that Ronald Reagan would be president in the future. I have, literally, no inner resources to process the reality today. The Apprentice guy is going to be president of the United States on January 20th. That's the way it is.
"We must take responsibility for the future by tending the present, by nurturing and nourishing our communities—in the flesh and online—and by seeking to understand, appreciate and come to unity with those who disagree with us."
Theories abound about how we got here: The DNC underestimated the Bern. The Millennials abandoned us. The Right has corrupted the voting process, and voter suppression has made an unprecedented comeback. In spite of the fact that millions of "illegals" futilely voted for Secretary Clinton, the Electoral College did its job and beat back the tyranny of the majority. The Electoral College is evil and must be destroyed.
The fact is (fact - [fakt] noun 1. a thing that is indisputably the case. "the most commonly known fact about hedgehogs is that they have fleas" synonyms: reality, actuality, certainty) that we are hopelessly deadlocked. If we were a jury, the judge would call a mistrial.
We blew it. I know you're going to exclaim that it wasn't "us," it was "them"—the obstructionists in Congress—who blew it. Let's get real. We were giddy and we burned up Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with name calling and vitriolic insults. We didn't learn from the Bush years. Hell. We didn't learn from the Kennedy years.
"Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future."
We haven't learned that we really, really, REALLY don't win by fighting. We win by reaching forward, Jeannette Rankin style, walking into the fire and putting it out with clear, cool water. Unless it's a grease fire, and then we put a lid on it or use a fire extinguisher. But I like the first analogy better, and that's probably the most evident demonstration that we've got industrial strength, Olympic level gridlock. I say diplomacy and you say "slash and burn."
As Abbie Hoffman said,"Conspiracy? Hell, we couldn't agree on lunch."
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Back in 2008, in another essay published in Common Dreams, I cited some facts that I found terrifying.
Today, the United States has the most dismal social statistics of any "developed" nation, while half our tax dollars still fund the military, with only a tiny percentage paying for active military and veteran's benefits.
Meanwhile, 15 million American children live in poverty. Poor funding and political tug-of-wars have broken our schools. In the USA, there are more than 800,000 homeless today, the average age of whom is nine. Our elders are having increasingly difficult times living on fixed incomes, including Social Security, and many must choose between paying their utility bills and paying for medicine. 47 million Americans, including 9 million children, have no access to regular health care. Medical bills bankrupt nearly a million Americans each year.
Today, we've got 20 million people who have "health insurance" who didn't have it in 2008. We've got the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which the insurance companies have so thoroughly sabotaged that even Bill Clinton called it "crazy," a tasty quote with which the Trump campaign ran across the finish line.
Can we all just agree that our country is crazy? Not meaning that all 300 million of us are certifiable, but that we are an unwieldy mess? California, alone, is the 6th largest economy in the world (ahead of France, India, Italy, Brazil and all the rest except China, Japan, Germany and the UK - oh, and the United States as a whole, which has the largest economy on earth, even dwarfing China by about 8 trillion dollars). We can scream and point fingers at each other until the proverbial Holsteins come home, but we're not going to be able to clearly see a path through the maze that is the socio-economic dynamics of this country.
An op-ed in today's Los Angeles Times concluded:
In the presidential campaign, the fears of one group of citizens morphed into a powerful anger that Trump harnessed to propel himself to the White House. Now, another set of Americans — a significantly larger group — is feeling profoundly distressed. If their fears are borne out, their anger, too, will become a political force that could upend an election yet to come.
It is my assertion—my adamant prophesy—that our anger may "upend an election," but it will not answer Kennedy's call. We must take responsibility for the future by tending the present, by nurturing and nourishing our communities—in the flesh and online—and by seeking to understand, appreciate and come to unity with those who disagree with us.
We blew it. If we want to fix it, we can't do it with the same strategies with which we blew it. That would be clinically insane.