I’m a political animal. Always have been. Those of you who have known me since I was in grade school will pretty much vouch for that. The reason I mention this is that I’ve spent the last 50 years or so having political “discussions” of one sort or another. I can remember arguing (when I was eight!) if Nixon or Kennedy would be more effective against the Soviets and dealing with Khrushchev.
Somewhere along the way, in the last 30 years, these discussions changed. Prior to this, everybody typically had used the same “facts” as a starting point. If people noticed they were not in agreement on this, they would attempt to find common ground if at all possible. And, they usually managed to do so. They may have had radically different views on how to proceed from there. For example, whatever your views on, say, the space program: Most of us agreed that we’d actually landed on the moon in the summer of 1969. Now, not so much.
I’m not surprised that plenty (if not the majority) of people don’t have the same political views as mine, but I can’t help but note that there are a large number of them that have a considerably different view of what is actually going on. It’s as if “objective reality” doesn’t actually exist. “Facts” do not seem to be a goal that’s worthy of trying to ascertain.
The world IS more complicated than ever. Sometimes, things are beyond the average person’s ability to grasp. My entire understanding of the climate is based on my concept of “who to trust” much more than any scientific understanding, and unless you are an actual climate scientist, we’re all in the same boat. The same goes for international economics and trade if we’re being honest. It’s hard to find any two economists that agree. The temptation to turn to simple answers that “sound good” is strong.
A certain level of trust in one’s leaders thus becomes paramount. That’s the entire basis of representative democracy. Since there seem to be an infinite number of versions of the “Truth”, there seems little in the way of standards to judge who is truthful. An objective observer might conclude “truth” isn’t important to us as we’ve tolerated dishonesty in our leaders for years. We tolerate things in our leaders that we wouldn’t put up with from the people we deal with on a daily basis. When I was in business, I learned to avoid doing business with people who were not honest.
I’m not talking about the size of fish, the length of a golf drive or the answer to the question “Does this make me look fat?”, but things that are a material part of the topic at hand. When people start to think things like “All politicians lie.”, we’ve reached the point that we’re forced into voting for the lesser of two evils.
A republic is not likely to survive if a people can’t trust those who make up our government. The converse is also probably true. Many of the problems with have to live with today are due to decisions the public never voted on. Nobody voted in having the CIA install the Shah as the leader of Iran, for example. One doesn’t have to look far to find wars that we were lead into under false premises. We’ve stopped trusting each other and we’ve lost faith in our leaders.
Imagine you are in a lifeboat. The ship you were aboard has sunk and somehow, none of the crew ended up on the lifeboat. You’re all civilians. Your chances for survival hinge on somehow planning on a course of action. This will most likely involve compromises, but at the very least, people have to realize they are in this together. The worst that could happen is if you ended up with two charismatic and strong leaders that totally disagree on which way to go, although they have no knowledge of navigation, and manage to polarize the lifeboat and divide it into two camps who end up fighting each other to the death.
OK, so this is a rather extreme example, but how far is it from our current political situation? One common worry seems to be: “What happens after the election?” Our legislature has been deadlocked for the last 8 years and people on both sides of the political divide have great fears of what might happen if the other side “wins”. It looks to me like we’re not too committed to working together and if the lifeboat sinks, so be it.
When I was a child, they used to show the “Wizard Of Oz” on TV every year. I was always fascinated by the Wizard mentioning “E Pluribus Unum” and having adults explain to me that it used to be our national motto. It was changed by an act of Congress in 1956.
It’s probably not a coincidence this was used in a movie made in 1939 when the US was still not out of the depression and the world looked as if it was falling apart. If the whole country wouldn’t have pulled itself together at that point, you probably wouldn’t be reading this…….
I certainly don’t have an answer for this, but I do know that:
(To quote Dr. Martin Luther King)
“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”