Happy 242nd birthday, children. May this July 4th find you full of joy and gratitude, wherever you are in this great land of ours.
Your uncle and I are doing well, all things considered. After all, we’re not as young as we used to be!
But you kids have us worried. Sam and I think you’re being especially bratty and that pains us both.
We know you’re young; your cousins Mr. and Mrs. John Bull keep reminding us their English brood is four times as old and they’ve had no end of problems with them lately, but we expect better of you. That’s why we gave you American Exceptionalism.
Don’t take this wrong, we’re still proud of you, but we think you need to step back and take a good look at yourselves.
So, here goes, and remember, we offer this with love.
First of all, stop bickering so much. Really, children, it’s gotten out of hand! If you keep screaming at one another we’re going to pull the Buckboard over to the curb and nobody goes to DC until you settle down.
I know you think these are hard times, but heavens to Betsy, there have been much worse and you never whined like this!
Really, what more do you imps want? You’ve got the best economy on the planet. People in most of the world would kill for the life you’ve got. Those poor souls to the south of you would die for your privileges, and some of them do, every day.
We’re not saying you have to let anyone in who wants to come here, that’s impossible, but can you at least try to be a little kinder to those folks who try? Nobody likes a bully.
As your Aunt, I especially don’t like the way you’re treating children, and your Uncle says you can’t have it both ways. You can’t moan and groan about your miserable fate while refusing entry to our country because you don’t want to share your good fortune.
Controlling our borders is fine, pretending you live in a swamp at the same time is immature. You’re acting like moody teenagers, nothing satisfies you, everything is bad, boo-hoo-hoo.
Look what you’ve done to the political system we bequeathed you. You’ve soiled it so badly you don’t want to go near it. But whose fault is that?
Now, we don’t want to be too hard on you. You’re still young and young ‘uns make bad choices. But Uncle wants you to “man up” (I don’t like his choice of words, but we’ve been married for centuries so I indulge him. You should follow our example.) He says you made your bed, now sleep in it. If you don’t like it, change the bedding.
But that’s not what worries us most. If you were carrying on, having fun like juvenile delinquents, we’d be upset, but we’d understand. We were young once, you should have seen us cutting up. Oh my goodness, we were bad!
The thing is, we had fun doing it. You kids don’t seem to be having any fun at all. You act like fun and hijinks are beneath you. Maybe you think it makes you look grown up and serious to be so joyless, but it only makes you look spoiled.
We’ve watched your shows, heard your music, read your “posts” or whatever you call them. Goodness gracious, you’d think you were living in the plague years! Anything nice you think is corny, anything hopeful you think is unsophisticated, anything positive is idiotic.
But if it’s gruesome or ugly or cynical, you lap it up like a starving puppy. It seems to us as if you want to feel bad.
Your uncle and I aren’t old sentimental fools; we know that saccharine music and stories are lame.
But we also know that saccharine is not sugar. Life can be sweet, if you let it. Don’t be afraid to be happy and sincere. It will make you happy and sincere.
We don’t want to rain on your parade, children. Especially your July 4th parades. But stop your tears or you’ll snuff out all the pretty fireworks.
And do try to get along. You’ll make more friends, get more done, and be much happier if you do.
But no matter what you do, know that we still love you. You’re the product of our wonderful extended family after all.
Love and happy birthday,
Uncle and Auntie Sam
The fundamental political difference between people is not liberal versus conservative, socialist versus capitalist, or any other worldview you can mention.
The two kinds of political orientation are those who care more about what happened than who did it, and those who care more about who did it than what happened.
We’ve learned to be suspicious of simplistic formulations that place human behaviors on two ends of a pole, like a magnet. People come in infinite shadings on any spectrum, like gay or straight. Most people fall somewhere in between.
But the poles are there, and real, nonetheless. Totally gay or completely straight aren’t absurdities, they define the antipodes of human sexual preference. They are the ends of a spectrum of sexuality.
A similar dialectic defines human political behavior. Let me coin a word here. The political equivalent of sexuality is politicality.
My politicality is more oriented to consequences than personalities, but I understand the other impulse.
Take free-trade Republicans who became Trump protectionists because they care more about Trump than free trade. Or the malleability of conservatives who viciously opposed Trump the candidate, the same super patriots who now are utterly indifferent to Russian meddling in American democracy because it reflects badly on Trump the president. It’s enough to produce tears, or tears of laughter, take your pick.
But there is a rational basis for believing in someone who may disagree with you about one thing, or even many things. The future is unknowable. When you put your faith and trust in an individual, what you’re saying is that you trust that person to hedge the future. You may identify with him or her, you may like their cutting rhetoric or the cut of their jib. Your attraction to them isn’t about position papers, it’s about who you think they are as people.
That politicality isn’t ridiculous. We are human, chemistry matters, and people fall in love, or hate, all the time. And once we do, we’re tenacious. We call that trait loyalty and, for a social species, loyalty is not to be despised.
But there is a price. Too much uncritical loyalty, too much caring about who’s doing it and not what they’re doing can be a dangerous thing. Lemmings come to mind. You never know what’s over that cliff. Lincoln’s promised land or Stalin’s gulag.
The other politicality is not an unalloyed virtue, either. A million people pulling in a million directions get nowhere. And leaderless revolutions always fail. From the whiskey rebellion to Occupy Wall Street, the lessons are clear. Much noise plus much energy plus zero leaders equals zero change. We’re the species that needs to put a face to it.
Seeing politics in this way makes it easier to understand, for instance, how religious conservatives excuse the sinful behavior of our president. For all his marriages and liaisons with porn stars, gutter language and devilish rhetoric, they’re all in with Trump. He tells them how great they are, and he doesn’t talk down to them like some snob on the coast.
And if he’s a sinner, well, so are we all. It doesn’t matter to them that good family man Barack Obama gave them health care and serial philanderer Trump wants to take it away. They don’t care what happens, they only care who did it. If Trump does it, it’s good, if Obama did it, it’s bad.
Democrats are as oblivious in the other direction. Rent by a thousand small issues, talking shop when people want to hear heart, the Democrats fail and fail again because they rarely can put an attractive face on their politics. The party of the people is the party with no personality.
The lesson here isn’t that one type of politicality is better than the other. It’s the recognition that both attitudes exist, and all people fall somewhere on the spectrum of caring more about who did it or caring more about what happened. I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to that split. And I think politicality, and not liberal versus conservative, is the bleeding heart of our political dysfunction, the ultimate cause of gridlock.
What is your politicality? Do you care more about what happens or more about who did it? Look deep in your soul and figure it out. Then try to move, just a little, to the opposite pole. Somewhere in there are the right policies fronted by the right leaders. Without both, nothing happens. Nothing good, that is.