Finding Common Ground?

Identity is essential to the American experience. We are a nation of individuals; at our best we are bound together by a romantic notion of self-determination and self-reliance, opportunity, community, and equality. In this environment, it is important to create a personal narrative about hard work, triumph over adversity, and cool factor. The American experiment affords us the chance to bring our talents to bear for our own edification and in service of others. We all believe this story to varying degrees. It’s what powers our endless optimism and it is probably my favorite thing about having the amazing good fortune to be born when and where I was.

We have, thus far, (with a major assist from imperialism and worldwide economic hegemony) appeared to balance pooling our resources to mitigate the tragedy of the commons with the pursuit of self-interest, to a positive result, in total. And while we have a ridiculous standard of living compared to everywhere else, it also seems to me that we are increasingly consumed by the need to remedy the exploits that have facilitated our collective success (hence our global diplomacy and foreign aid apparatus, apparent support for #blacklivesmatter, Standing Rock, and, to some degree, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden). As a result of this growing sense of duty and responsibility, we are working to transition from fossil fuels to clean/renewable energy, from hierarchy to flat inclusion, from industrial to service economy, and to extend the ethos of the Enlightenment into new realms that will enable us to predict outcomes and deliver solutions to things like space travel and an immunological cure for cancer. That is what a good capitalism looks like (sans the imperialism part), or so it seems to me.

But since all humans are governed by the realities of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, varying levels of absolute and relative security (economic, health, personal safety) affect how well we can operate at the top of the pyramid, which is where the ethos of our American creed is situated, i.e., we cannot achieve at these elevated levels of enlightened self-interest unless our basic needs are satisfied. What we have neglected to solve is the social and economic problems created by our forward march — what solutions have we provided for those that have been left in its wake are clearly, increasingly inadequate. (For another day, a post about how the insistence on better and more affordable housing within cities reflects the same basic neglect that the brain drain in old line rust belt and rural communities exemplifies.)

The degree to which our perceived security affects our capacity for self-esteem and self-actualization is evident, and fairly well understood, especially with respect to gay rights. What is less obvious, especially to people in ethnically and racially diverse urban environments, is how tribalism and religion act as a salve against the push toward a multicultural tolerance: as cities grow inclusive and tolerant, the “hinterlands” move in the opposite direction, pushed along by dwindling opportunities and decreasing diversity. I’m not sure if Fox, Breitbart, Drudge and their ilk set out to create the perfect storm that resulted in the election of Donald Trump, but these tools have been yoked together to vanquish the tolerant cities and remake them, rather than to win the government and implement their vision of a democracy.

So it would seem that, in the aftermath of the election, certain elements of the moneyed establishment have been stoking these divisions, and that in some very unfortunate ways, having a black president ratcheted up the fear of the other, and of obsolescence, in the face of rapid demographic shifts. I think I understand the obstinance, especially when a lineage to Plymouth Rock, or the Daughters of the American Revolution, or some other old-line restricted membership organization or association is in play. And as long as those forces of division work to build their power, at the expense of the bourgeoisie (all you city folk) and the establishment, it will be very difficult to address those basic Maslowian needs and to collectively move toward solving the challenges before us in a more global sense.

And so, we find ourselves at a stalemate, one that may take a long time to play itself out. While Obama spoke of a new politics that works for everyone when he took office in 2009, our new president makes no such claims, instead seeking to punish tolerance and inclusion. There will be no “live and let live,” which characterized the last 8 years. And so I find myself looking for the most expedient ways to develop language and policy that will help bridge the gap — I, like Obama, believe that there are more of us who are good and decent and tolerant than those who would like everyone’s head on a stick. For the most part, I’m willing to find ways to work and live together without trying to exterminate anyone. And the first place I’m willing to look at is one of my two third rails (like the numbers game there?): I’m going shooting with a friend in two weeks.