All the reports have been accurate, sadly: it was a s#*!show.
However, I’m not talking about Tuesday night’s debate, where the current president and the former vice president did their very best Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau impersonations, doing everything except leaving a stinky dead fish in each other’s cars for the ride home.
I’m talking about living in America, following politics in America, and resolving social and policy issues throughout our nation over the past several years.
My friend Brandey Sligsus comes to mind when I think about it.
She is a brilliant woman that I had known since I was in the second grade. She was always smart. She was always outgoing. She could articulate her thoughts and she was fearless. She was proud to be American and she was proud to be Black.
And yes – she was cute, too, although I never dated her.
Over the course of our friendship, we talked, debated, laughed, and struggled together as friends. We protested together during the Rodney King controversy of 1991-1992. We supported each other through school experiences, both academic and social. No topic was too big. No takes were too hot. No disagreement was too explosive.
Until those recent calls where I was regularly described as a 4-syllable noun that resembles “knickerbocker” – repeatedly.
Was it over Daniel Cameron and the grand jury overseeing the Breonna Taylor tragedy? Was it the announcement of the Platinum Plan? Was it the protests and riots here in my hometown of Pittsburgh? Was it my speech discussing the expanding roles of Blacks in the conservative movement? Was it because of the pandemic, the economy due to the pandemic, or just the fact that Donald Trump is still President of the United States?
I don’t know. Actually, it could be because of all of it and more. Yet, the details are irrelevant.
Just as we saw Tuesday night at the debate, we have reached a point in America where blunt discussions have turned into insulting interactions, often devoid of facts and vision yet full of bluster, emotion, and derision. And, just as I had to do with my dear friend from yesteryear (i.e., block her number, disconnect from social media, and decline any further phone calls from her), America has increasingly done with her fellow citizens. Collectively, we have become more inclined to disconnect completely with those that do not share our interpretations of incidents, embrace “our facts” as universal truths, and focus on the items that we deem most important in our nation today.
Foundational values in America are increasingly rare, from the vision of our founding via The 1619 Project to constitutional protections for all life and their collective liberty. To most Americans, the nation is only made up of 50% + 1 folks that are truly patriotic. To most Americans, loyalty to tribalism is more important than any universal truth – spiritual, secular, and communal. To most Americans, the other 49% of those occupying the United States are, in some fashion, just that: “occupiers”. They are people that feed off of this land, incapable of loving this nation and unwilling to contribute to the greatness of this nation, even in the midst of their critiques, complaints, and continued consternation throughout an era that has included racial division, economic upheavals, and a pandemic that has claimed thousands of lives.
Peacemakers are no longer seen as pragmatic. They are often seen as spine-less fence-sitters. They are men and women without a country, too affiliated with “radicals” for many and too “non-committal” for others. Everyday debates that involve respect, love, decency, and unity are undervalued in a social media-driven market that elevates shock jocks and thought leaders and “hot takes” as policy staples.
Watching all this — highlighted for millions on Tuesday night and epitomized by me being called everything except a child of God by a childhood friend — hurt. Yet, I did not hurt for myself due to name-calling or losing a friend. I hurt understanding what this means for our nation.
Americans have forgotten that our democratic republic was created under the presumptions that citizens would never devolve to this level of animosity and hatred for their countrymen. Just as the nation cannot function properly without the three equal branches of government respecting their own roles within government (i.e., have you seen the recent approval ratings for Congress or the fights over the Supreme Court vacancy this week?), we cannot pick leaders at all levels of elected government and interact with direction and sensibility without a shift from our current tone and tactics. Claims that someone won Tuesday night when it has been clear that this great nation has been losing – both the essence of itself and its place in the world in a variety of arenas – shows both how far we have strayed as well as how much work We the People have before us.
One can never own the libs enough. One can never insult “cuck-servatives” or “lib-tards” enough. One can never shout down the other side enough, despite how many tiki torches are lit or how many buildings are burned down in a city. Without embracing the very best of America now, we cannot have a new vision for a better America for years to come.
Yes: explosive tensions within the nation once led to the caning of a US Senator on the floor. Of course, 4 years later came the Civil War and the fracturing of our nation that led to decades of incomplete healing. We cannot bully our way through these challenging times. We cannot elevate America to our next heights through slamming our political foes. We are one nation – for now. We must work to keep it that way and lead the world – united – through this pandemic and into the best of our future. We can only do that if we go back to where the Brandey Sligsuses of the world are driven by the best within us all, not the worst of our disagreements.