Defending the Game

Our institutions matter.  Our Constitution matters.

No, our system of Government isn’t perfect.  But point me to a better one.  Okay, maybe we could vote differently, or set up representation in a way that made more sense.  Nevertheless, the Constitution is there to protect everyone, in recognition of a democracy peopled by the feisty, the iconoclasts, the oddballs, the convicted.

So its understanding of who constitutes everyone has rightly expanded, the truth remains: America was colonized by rabble-rousers, risk-takers, greedy mofo’s who didn’t like rules, and petty empire-builders.  To paraphrase: England didn’t send us its best.  England sent criminals and dissidents, those who refused to bend to the status quo, hardliners, greedy bastards, outcasts, and the occasional rapist.  And for that motley crew to peacefully co-exist, we all had to agree to some baseline propositions.  Namely, you do you, and I’ll do me, and instead of killing each other over a dispute, we’re going to build this system of laws and courts that ultimately allows society to function in a way that enables capitalism.

And so it went with three branches of government, equal in power, checking and balancing itself out.  Disagreeing parties grappling over power in proscribed ways to ensure that, when the tables turned, the disadvantaged could trust the advantaged to respect the institutions.  All of it based in a common understanding of reality: we are always going to disagree.  There will always be tension between chaos and order.  A pluralistic society is a nightmare to maintain peacefully, and yet we do it because we like the outcome of all of this more-or-less peaceful coexistence.  We aren’t tolerant because we are good, we are tolerant because we need others to give us the same courtesy we are extending by minding our own damn business.

We don’t have to like how others use their freedom.  Football players can protest any way they see fit.  Barbie pundits can complain about how said protest is carried out.  The pundit is allowed to look stupid defending her right to criticize how someone else is executing their right to free speech by claiming her right to free speech.  The protest goes on indifferent to opinion, because the opinion is breath and vibration and is gone, while the law remains.

We can wish to convert the whole country to a single belief system and to justify laws based on those beliefs.  But we can’t, and we should be grateful.  Because my inability to force everyone to be strictly rational about everything means that the local Christian Scientists couldn’t deny my mother medical care in the face of cancer.  And I’ll happily bow to the Constitution limiting my right to enforce my belief system on others because it equally denies the Christian Scientists the ability to dictate my life according to their beliefs.

We can want a Supreme Court that rules according to our religious beliefs.  (How is a Christian wanting a Supreme Court to uphold religiously-motivated laws any different than a Muslim wanting a legal system that enforces Sharia law?)  But the risk to the system as a whole to throw a temper tantrum about the rules not breaking your way this time ignores the fact that the system means the rules will break to your preference in another way, at some other time…  It is shortsighted and jeopardizes the one thing that makes a pluralistic society work: the agreement to play one game according to one set of rules.  We aren’t going to get a monolithic society, so chucking the ground rules is beyond dangerous.  You might as well replace the foundation of your house with wonder-bread.

There will be consequences.  This backlash ultimately won’t be partisan, it won’t skip the Fox News crowd…  What we are dealing with here isn’t the second coming of the Third Reich, it is the redux of the French Revolution.  The peasants are rising, some initially called by seductive falsehoods (it is all someone else’s fault), but eventually the entire political spectrum will feel this truth: there are more of us than there are of them.

We can disagree about substance.  That’s what we do in America.  But we used to play by impartial ground rules set up in the Constitution, fleshed out in the Bill of Rights, and strengthened by decorum, norms, and 200 years of legislation.  Not out of the goodness of our hearts, but in the recognition that anything I can do to you, you can do to me when the balance of power shifts.

The power will shift.  If the GOP is smart, it will start reigning itself in, re-asserting the rules for itself that it wishes the Dems to abide by, and valuing the rules of the game to the same degree they seem determined to win the game.

American Democracy is the game.  If one side wins, the game ends.  Don’t forget: Game over isn’t a good outcome.  For anyone.

Advertisements
Defending the Game

Style vs. Substance

This is bound to be unpopular, and I’ll start by admitting that I don’t have any answers.

Deportation.  The past few weeks have been ugly when it comes to the question of immigrants, visa holders, and brown folk trying to move forward with any plans that involve the United States of America.  Racial profiling is the obvious means for seeking out immigrants.  You might miss some Aryan specimens here illegally, but the bulk of the people leaving home these days aren’t escaping a famine in Ireland.  The trouble is in Somalia or Syria or el Salvador.  And most of the people from Somalia or Syria, or el Salvador aren’t blond and blue-eyed.

As a country, we’ve proven that we can’t be trusted to make good decisions based on the color of someone’s skin.  I’m not for it.

And yet.  Deportations aren’t new.  Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) were deporting people under Obama, and as far as I know, the process hasn’t changed that much.  Nogales, Mexico sees a lot of the deported and what happens when ICE pushes someone across the border isn’t pretty.  Nogales is full of people seeking to exploit the vulnerable, and the recently-deported are vulnerable.  Women and children delivered to human traffickers, men with no options and plenty of reason to embark in some dubious scam to get quick money to finance a return home, whether north or south of the border.  The story doesn’t end well.  It didn’t end well under Obama either.

Yet few showed up at the airports, even fewer took to the streets.  For the deported, there can’t be that much difference in the experience of deportation from one President to the other.  But what has changed?

Style.  Obama did it without openly demonizing brown people.  He did it quietly, with no fanfare.  One wonders if he had glorified his deportations more, had more aggressive rhetoric, insisted that we use ACA instead of Obamacare to refer to a law that helped millions…  would those disaffected bubble-dwellers in rural white enclaves have loved him better?   (If you can spend a whole day and only interact with people who look like you, go to your church, and watch the same TV shows as you, you are living in a bubble.)

But I digress.

Drones.  Raids.  Civilians killed.  ISIS.  Guantanamo.  Poverty.  Hunger.  Water.  DAPL.  Lobbyists.  Wall Street.

Obama put a measured, careful face on all of the above.  And I’m not categorically attacking or defending that list.  Life is muddy and complicated.  Global politics don’t have much to offer purists or ideologues.  Reality intrudes.

The left complains that Obama didn’t do enough on one hand, and too much on the other.  He already expanded Presidential power in a way that is terrifying if you don’t trust the President.

Just ask Fox news.

If you agree with the man in the oval office, the Presidential powers aren’t expansive enough.

Just ask Fox news.

Here is the problem.  The rational among us need to take ownership of our tribalism and quit with the positioning that these things are only okay if we are doing them.  The standard must be that we aren’t going to do what we would be outraged if our opponents did.  Power grab in North Carolina.  Gerrymandering.  Muzzling free speech.  We must not carry on with positions that depend on style, not substance.

Don’t get me wrong.  45 is terrifying in both style and substance.  And style does matter.  How you shake hands with a foreign leader matters.  Decorum matters.  Appearing to take things seriously matters.

But it isn’t more important than substance.  In substance, we must believe what we believe, even when those principles deliver results we aren’t fond of.  This goes across the board.  If private e-mail servers are disqualifying for one side, then disqualify everyone who uses one.  If botched military action justifies years and years of expensive hearings, then every botched military action should be treated the same.  If connections to Wall Street are distasteful, then anyone who has connections to Wall Street should be held to the same standard.

Across the board, just don’t let style blind you to substance.  The left liked Obama’s style, and he spent 8 years relatively untroubled by backlash from the left.  Progressives don’t like Trump’s style, and the protests follow.  Trump’s die-hard voters love his style, and are blinded to the ways that he is covering for Republicans seeking to destroy every program that makes life better for a white man with no college degree.

Watch the substance.

Style vs. Substance

#maga – Permission

We didn’t used to need someone to tell us what needed to be done.  We looked around.  A neighbor needed a new barn, we showed up to raise that barn.  We didn’t wait for permission, we didn’t look to a county permit regulator to say it was all okay.  Those houses and barns built 200 years ago with no reference to the 20-volume building code are still standing, too.  Why are we waiting for permission to do some good in our communities?

In this country, I am sure there are enough men and women who are currently out of work with the know-how to solve the water problem in Flint.  Or to deal with this lady’s problem with sewer water bubbling up in her back yard.  Or to take down the crumbling houses in Detroit and use the lumber and other materials from a structurally unsound building on one block to keep the elderly lady in the next block in a house that is structurally sound.
This need for permission is a relatively new thing to the American character, and you can’t tell me it isn’t related to our ability to distract ourselves to death with TV, video games, and internet.  Now the only people who claim the American contrarian streak use the attitude to justify littering, illiteracy, truancy, peeing in public, and coal rolling…
This guy talks about starting a deconstruction business.  Know some out of work people?  Do you have a hammer, a crowbar, and a truck between you?  Perfect.  Start with a crumbling eyesore of a crack house, end with a lot your city can turn into a community garden.
If you really want the elites of the world – the Walmarts and the Politicians that do their bidding – stop needing them.  Stop waiting for them to tell you what matters.  Stop consuming their endless stream of distraction which is purposefully designed to make you fearful because fearful people are 1) easily led and 2) easily manipulated out of their money.  You don’t have to turn into a prepper or a granola-crunchy tree-hugger.  Look to your grandparents and great grandparents.  They grew their own food, they canned their own produce to see them through winter, they helped their neighbors and made sure the vulnerable in their community had some place to sleep.  They looked around and did what needed to be done simply because it was there to do.  That’s in your bones.  You don’t need a job to have a purpose.  You do need to step away from the couch and get reacquainted with your community in a way that doesn’t require facebook.
*Standard Disclaimer: I don’t mean make America white again, I mean make America great/constructive/kind/alive/connected/grounded/proactive/independent again.
#maga – Permission