What the hell is wrong with us?

I watched the debate last night; and frankly, I could have written this post before I wasted my time. I bounced back and forth between disagreeing and agreeing with aspects of what both of them said. The problem is this: even when I found myself agreeing with what was said, I didn’t actually believe it. It just felt like Kabuki theatre. At this point, do you think that they even believe themselves?

I will let others in the media pick apart all the inconsistencies — what each of them wore, which candidate sounded more presidential and who ultimately won. I can’t imagine there will be any surprises as I suspect most of the media outlets picked the winner long before the broadcast began. Too cynical? Maybe. But if a recent Pew Research study is to be believed, my cynicism regarding the media is shared by a majority of the country.

It is well known at this point that politics has become a team sport (I have a post coming on that topic). But what I saw last night brought to mind the gladiator games of ancient Rome. Not because it was a death match, but because the whole spectacle of it seems to be aimed at distracting us from the real issues we are facing as a country.

Both of these candidates are playing an old game. They are so entrenched in doing battle over the details that they’re losing sight of the war. Yes, some of the details are important. But at no point in the debate was there an acknowledgement that there is more to this election than the same tired, rehashed topics of the past year: Birthers, emails, ISIS, stamina, tax-returns, etc.

These candidates, and their respective parties, are dinosaurs.

When did “your team is worse than mine” become the prevailing motive in our country for engaging in the democratic process? How many people are truly for their candidate as opposed to being against the candidate from the “other side”?

Listen to this clip from Bono. His perspective on America is so powerful and clear.

[Bono, if you happen to read this, I would love to talk with you again, on or off the air.]

As a foreigner, it’s possible that Bono is able to see America more objectively, which may allow him to more accurately assess America’s greatness. But I can’t help but think that it’s a sad state of affairs when the clearest, most salient voice on the value of America isn’t coming from an American citizen, let alone the next President.

The idea of America has been bastardized.

It is not about owning a home, two cars and a white picket fence. It is not about retiring with a nice little nest egg and a gold watch. It is not about healthcare. It is not about anything the next President spoke about or even seemed to understand. America is an idea; it is a simple idea, but one that had never been tried before. A government created by the people for the people. A government where the people decide who would govern them and not the other way around.

In the words of William Wallace, “FREEEEEDOM!”

America is far from perfect. We need to improve. But if our history has taught us anything, it’s that more freedom leads to far better outcomes than less freedom. That said, freedom, in and of itself, will not lead to utopia.

We will continue to fight wars.

The economy will again suffer recessions and, God forbid, depressions.

There will continue to be violent crimes and riots in the streets.

Terrorism will not go away.

There will be tough times ahead, but we will always overcome if we remember (as Simon Sinek would say) our “why.”

America is great because the idea of America is perfect; not because the world uses the dollar as the reserve currency (for now) or because we have the largest and most powerful military. America won’t be great if it moves to a single payer healthcare system or increases the federal minimum wage. Each of these may make America incrementally better or worse (to each their own) but it will all be for naught if we lose sight of what America is.

For more years than I can count, I have been learning and trying to teach our history. The founders, the Constitution, the rise of progressivism, etc. But the longer I live through this kakistocracy, I find that at times I am fighting more to preserve the map our founders bestowed upon us rather than the idea itself. Even as a constitutionalist, I find that it’s easy to forget that the Constitution is not the end, but the means. We need to focus on our “why” before we focus on the how.

I have profound admiration for our founders. I think the Constitution is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, document penned by man. I believe the balance between a democracy and a republic and the checks and balances of our three branches of government were inspired. But these things are not the ends, just the means. We speak about the Constitution being a check on the government, but why?

To protect our freedom. Nothing more, nothing less.

If “We the People” want to amend our founding document in order to provide more freedom, let’s have that conversation; but it has to start with a fundamental understanding of the ideal. There are many smarter than I who may have ideas for how it might be improved — I certainly don’t, which is why I choose to defend the Constitution. But I look forward to hearing and engaging in that conversation. Unfortunately, that’s not the conversation the candidates (or the media for that matter) have been engaged in during this election cycle. Last night was no exception.

But don’t worry, I’m sure it was the other side’s fault. When times are tough, just point the finger across the aisle, right? When our team wins, we get to enjoy a brief endorphin rush and then, four years later, we get to battle it out all over again. And again… And again… We’re fighting the battles but we’ve all but forgotten why we waged the war.

The debate only confirmed what I’ve come to fear the most: that in the fog of our partisan battles, we have lost sight of the idea of America — our North Star. And without it, we seem to be losing our dignity, our ability to reason, our principles, our empathy, even our basic decency. I wonder how many of us have noticed. I wonder how many people care.

As Rome is burning, our politicians boldly declare “let them eat cake!” My apologies for mixing metaphors.

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