The Punitive Attitudes Of American Politics
There is sure a lot of anger out there. So ready to punish, so unwilling to talk.
I have read that Donald Trump wants to “own” the Democrats, the liberals, the socialists, the label of the day. Democrats, in turn, want to punish the president for at least giving the appearance of breaking numerous laws, ignoring norms and customs, and generally, ignoring the Democrats whenever they issue a subpoena.
I know conservatives who hate liberals. I know liberals who hate conservatives. I know from reading the political news, that both sides want to punish each other. Both sides are angry with each other and both sides accuse the other of some crime or another. Both sides want the last word so they can force the other side to remain silent, permanently, without further debate, without appeal, without compromise. Is this the land of the free, the home of the brave that we sing about in that song? How long must we sing that song without even bothering to honor what it means to us?
Both sides are exhibiting authoritarian tendencies. If you want to punish someone without a trial, throw them in a cell and toss the key, you’ve got a disease called, authoritarianism. If you want to deny someone the right to be heard in political discourse, you’ve got authoritarianism. If you want to prevent someone from voting, you’ve got authoritarianism. If you want the courts to rule in ways that would shine a preference for your religion over others, you’ve got authoritarianism. If you want the government to create policies that would allow wages to be decoupled from productivity while giving you and your corporate pals big fat tax breaks, you’ve got authoritarianism. If you want to decide who gets married and to whom, you’ve got authoritarianism.
I never thought I’d be calling authoritarianism a disease, but it is. Authoritarianism is a disease of a mind that believes that it should have control over others, to tell them what to do and when. To tell them when to have kids and when not to. Such a mind believes that it should have power over others. Such a mind says that it should have the power to govern others without their consent. Such a mind says that it has the absolute power to punish others, and it doesn’t really matter which side you’re on. If you think that someone should be punished for something, you have authoritarianism.
This isn’t to say that murders should run free, or that robbers should keep their loot, or that rapists should be exonerated for just being male. This is to say that dangerous people should be restrained. They should be educated. They should be restrained so that they are not a danger to the rest of us.
I just look at the melee unfolding before me in this fight over who should be confirming the next justice of the Supreme Court and when, and I see the anger. And under the anger is fear. There is always fear under anger. Fear of loss of control. Fear for personal safety. Fear that some other people may assert their power in order to deprive other people of their rights. Fear that someone is getting away with something. Fear that once someone assumes power, that he will marginalize my own power. There is always fear underneath the anger.
When I see the people protesting in the streets, I see anger and fear. When I see a bellicose president threatening violence to put down a protest, I see fear. When I see a politician justifying abuse of power, I see fear. When I see critics calling that politician out for his abuse of power, I see fear.
I see all sides fighting. I see no discussion of compromise. I see little understanding that nothing is permanent. Trump may get three justices, and he may act proud, and he may talk about a legacy, but I can say, with some confidence, that everything that is permanent is dead. I can also say that for every action there is a reaction. Does Trump want to pack the court with conservatives? Get ready for a generation of voters who will remember what he did, and watch them express their unhappiness at the polls.
But neither side wants to give in. Neither side wants to negotiate a fair deal. Neither side wants to appear to be weak for even asking for a fair deal. The GOP, despite losing the popular vote in 7 of the last 8 presidential elections is not seeking a fair deal. they are seeking minority rule. They are not seeking negotiation. It is perceived that they are seeking to abuse their power. This is what the schools will be teaching the next generation of kids.
Trump could offer an olive branch and nominate someone who appeals to both sides. I have yet to see him do it. His choices have been inflammatory. His choices have been divisive. Much of the work of this president has been divisive.
For their part, the liberals, the Democrats, could offer their own olive branches in the name of peace. They could stop with the incessant calls for impeachment and just focus on legislation. It would have been nice if the Democrats had nominated someone who truly excited the base in 2016 and this year, but they would not have it. The powers that be, the tiny 0.02% of the American population, including the 400 richest families in America, would not have it. Any. Other. Way.
So I go back to that punitive feeling. The one that says the other side did wrong. The other side messed up. The other side is only going to make things worse. Both sides are saying this. Trump will destroy America. Biden will turn America into a communist labor camp. Both statements are demonstrably false. Both statements give very little credit to the strength of America.
If we truly want peace, we must be peaceful. All this fighting is merely a distraction. And if I were a wealthy interest, very much concerned that other people might notice that I spent the last 40 years rigging the economy to suit my plans, then all this chaos and division works perfectly for me.
Our adversary is not Donald Trump. It’s not Joe Biden. Our adversary wants nothing more than to make sure that the majority of the public cannot agree on much upon anything. The riots, the very poor response to the pandemic, and the confirmation fight before us are features, not bugs, of a system intended to enslave us to live in a Skinner Box of pain and pleasure. At this point, we’re fighting over who gets to live in a better Skinner Box. We’re not fighting over any real freedom.
If you want freedom, you start from a desire for peace. You demonstrate that desire by being peaceful, reasonable, and you refrain from antagonizing your fellow Americans. You refrain from calling them names, objectifying them, and accusing them of things they did not do. And then you start talking about real solutions that work, without a hidden agenda. If you want something to happen, make it known. There might be someone “on the other side” who wants what you want, despite their political orientation.
The foundation skill of humanity is cooperation. We know this because we have language. There is no other reason for a language other than to ask for assistance in getting our needs met, getting what we want, and realizing our dreams, together. If we want to get out of the Skinner Box, we must cooperate to do it. No one at the top is going to do it for us. Those at the top are making more money than ever from our discomfort. So if we really want peace, we start talking about reliable, durable solutions that we can practice, and that will make our lives better.
Such solutions shall, in a very legal sense, put no one at a disadvantage. That means we cannot engineer laws so that our business will prosper over others. We cannot engineer laws that will put our religion at an advantage over other religions. We cannot engineer laws that pit one race against another. We cannot allow our laws to divide and conquer us. A durable and reliable solution to our problems will have all of those qualities.
But before we can get to that, we have to put down our signs, our guns, our torches, and our passions. We need to calm down. We cannot think when we’re riled up. And we have to let go of our addiction to adrenaline. The nation is strong enough to handle the drama before us. But a nation is composed of people, and those people cannot have peace until they decide to be peaceful.
So yeah. Start there. Lay down your arms and come to the table to collaborate on durable solutions to our problems, negotiate in good faith, and to play a part in rebuilding our nation into a place where would want to live. Let us rebuild our nation into a place where we feel safe raising our kids, going to work, or going out to dinner. It has to start somewhere. Let it start here, with a sincere desire for peace.