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We Need a Different National Conversation

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by Andy Schmookler

We Americans lurch, amazed, from one unprecedented political spectacle to another. We get all abuzz:

Golly, look at that Trump phenomenon! Never seen anything like it. Imagine a guy talking with such
bluster, such as braggart, playing so fast-and-loose with the truth. And all that making him the front-runner for the presidential nomination of one of
America’s major political parties!

Hey, can you beat
this? The Speaker of the House has resigned, and his successor has backed out,
and the guy a lot of them want for the job says no. A powerful position, third
in line for the presidency, and these people don’t want it? That’s a first!

These are but the
most recent of a whole string of unprecedented political developments in our
times. None of them positive.

The list of these
developments reads like a political history of our times.

 •           A president (Geprge W. Bush) who
shows a systematic contempt for the rule of law — unlike anything ever seen
before in an American presidency – as demonstrated by the torture memo and the
pardoning of the only member of the administration tried and convicted for
crimes committed;

•           A major American political party in
Congress (the Republicans) making unprecedented use of blackmail, threatening
to damage the nation – by shutting down the government or defaulting on the
nation’s debt — if it does not get its way on matters it lacks the legitimate
power to achieve;

 •            A party in opposition (again, the
Republicans) making it their top priority to prevent the president from accomplishing
anything — even at a time of crisis — resulting in a Congress less productive
than any we’ve seen before;

 •           An opposition party (again, the
once-respectable Republican Party) that also sets another record in repealing
more than 50 times the President’s signature achievement– fighting against his
health care reform completely and without stop, despite the fact that this was
something the president ran on and the people voted for, something that he won
fair and square in the Congress, something that has been upheld twice by the
Supreme Court, and something that for all its imperfections was a reasonable
and quite mainstream way of addressing a real problem.


One unprecedented and
ugly political development after another. And each “story” gets play in our
national conversation.

But we don’t talk
much about all these pieces fit together, and what they show about the forces
at work in our nation.

It’s like if you
don’t understand why volcanic activity and earthquake activity often strike
together, you don’t really understand the nature of what, beneath the surface,
you’re dealing with.

Surely a whole series
of developments in our nation’s power system that are both unprecedented and
damaging must indicate that something new and destructive has arisen in the
country. And surely that should sound a powerful alarm and become a focus of
our national conversation.

If we are going to
understand the political crisis of our times, we need to be asking such
questions as:

 •           How does it come to be that such
unprecedented and dysfunctional things are happening, one after the other?

•           What’s going on in the larger
national system that there should be so many signs of disturbance and
breakdown?

 •           What does it mean that all these
damaging developments are originating in the same part of our body politic?

 •           What is it that expresses itself in
all these ways?

 •           What would it take to stop and repair
the damage?

 It is to answer these
questions that I have written, and just published, my new book, WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World—and How WeCan Defeat It.

Here’s what we need
to do:

 •           be less amazed by each spectacle of
dysfunction;

•           see more clearly the destructive
force, beneath the surface, that is generating these displays
of political
sickness;

•           call out more boldly this seismic
threat to the integrity of the American power system; and 

•           press the battle more passionately
against that destructive force to protect what’s best about our nation.

To help the effort to
get this conversation started, click here.