I spent last night into the wee hours editing the video of The Big Sort from our February visit from Bill Bishop. It could have been exhaustion from the tedious process of video editing but I ended the evening with an even more onerous feeling about the importance of where we turn from here in our life as a country. I was struck with the heavy realization that what Bill describes and documents in his must-read book may be the beginnings of our form of government gone to seed.
“A Republic, if you can keep it” were Franklin’s haunting words. If we are half the patriots we like to say we are, times a wasting for the actions required to do so.
A “government by and for the people”, by definition, requires that we engage in the conversation of governance. “Us” doesn’t have to mean you and me literally, but at the very least it means the people we elected to govern for us. In case you haven’t noticed, they aren’t. They’re only partly to blame though because when they hold their fingers in the political wind – as they are apt to do – they know that we don’t exactly want them to.
And we’re all about what we want. Our lives have become so driven by our desires that we’ve finally moved beyond what we want to eat (we’re obese), what we want to consume (we’re broke) to what we want to hear and believe – who cares what’s actually true. As a result, we have become a people somewhat incapable of governing ourselves.
At a local level, in the more like-minded communities we’ve built for ourselves because we want to be around people who think and act like we do, we can just go about doing what we want to do. But when decisions are required at a higher level of governance (state or federal), we’re paralyzed. No one agrees and no one is communicating and compromising, so we get Wisconsin legislators fleeing the state – an abysmal sign of the times (and there is plenty of blame both sides richly deserve for it).
Love of country is not a passive thing that warrants a bumper sticker and a “love it or leave it mindset.” A sickeningly high number of us have indeed jumped the shark in birtherism, as somehow patriotism-my-way has become about impugning the perfectly American credentials of a sitting president. (And character assassination is no stranger to the American left – albeit currently less incendiary.)
Authentic patriotism is so much harder than slapping on a bumper sticker and poking our fellow citizen in the eye: It challenges us to rise above our baser instincts rather than wholesale give in to them. Our founding fathers – in fact – placed their bet on our ability to do so even as they understood our human nature and had their doubts about whether we could.
Our American revolution was an act of maturity – not the petty petulant childishness that marks our dialogue today – an act of men engaged deeply in governing a Republic: They had a real conversation.
High time we do the same.