Ask any non-American for one word to describe us. You’ll get a lot of different answers, for sure, but there is one that stands out for me. I’ve asked this of a lot of people from many different nations and there is one word which came up more often than most.
Americans, as a people, have few limits. We honestly believe that if you put your mind to it you can achieve anything at all. More importantly, we don’t have any problems talking about those dreams – or many other details about our lives. This doesn’t happen in a lot of other cultures, and it is one of our greatest strengths.
Like all great strengths, as we play to it very hard it can also become a terrible weakness.
Rejection of the “mainstream” is an important part of the polarization and radicalization of America. Socially and politically, movements on the left, right, and whatever else there is measure their stands by how far outside the establishment they are.
For all the bluster, it’s mostly nonsense. Trump supporters often rely on Obamacare, as they are learning, if not social security and other programs. Left wingers usually have jobs like anyone else. Everyone has sold out in nearly every way possible – except one. Religion and spirituality is the one place where the true mainstream is indeed slipping away, caught in an “uncanny valley” where the teachings seem too simple, too childlike, to be relevant.
And this is the one place where America is truly failing.
One prominent theme came out of the 2016 election – voters are ready for change. A near majority was excited enough by the idea to actually vote for a narcissist with no rational plan at all. Are voters simply stupid?
In a democracy, you always get the government you deserve. No matter how you may feel about that, it remains true that Vox Populi, Vox Dei – the voice of the people is the voice of God, a sentiment first developed by radical Whig reformers in Scotland 300 years ago.
For those of you who favor the short version, skipping a journey through history, voters aren’t stupid. They may be badly informed and even more badly led, but they are onto something. America is clearly adrift. The essential guiding philosophy is obvious, given a little distance provided by history and the experience of hungrier developing nations. But in the bizzy here and now, what does that mean in terms of politics?
Continuing the look back over the first decade of Barataria, this piece is from April 2007. It outlines a disease which has since consumed us – an inability to accept the need to work things out.
“Politics” is a dirty word.
A common phrase in our world is that we “need to keep politics out” of a given situation. It seems to come from a noble intent, which is the desire to make rational decisions that are best for everyone. But what is it that we are trying to keep out?
As we revisit Barataria’s history approaching the Tenth Anniversary next month, this piece from nine years ago stands out. You can see that nothing happening now really surprises me, but it certainly does disappoint.
When I was young, I lived in a time and place where just about anything was possible. It’s amazing just how terrifying that prospect was.
Leading into the 10th Anniversary of Barataria in less than two months, I am re-running pieces from the first year. Some of these pieces, like this one, are more personal and introspective. I hope you enjoy it.
Why do we write? It’s a tough question. People put a lot of effort into blogs, but not too many of them are worth reading. Most of these will eventually cease to be amusing, stop being updated, and gradually dissolve as if there were never more than some kind of atmospheric turbulence. So why are they started in the first place?
A few years ago, I found myself on Payne Avenue in St Paul after an absence of many years. It had changed, noticeably, and for the better. Shops were clean and bright, people filled the sidewalks, and traffic was impressively bad.
More interestingly, many of the signs on the newly refurbished shops were in Spanish and Hmong.
This process is hardly anything new in American history. A new generation of immigrants often arrives with little more than what they can carry but soon saves and scrapes enough to put a stake down. The first places they invest the rewards of restless work meeting boundless opportunity are neighborhoods like St Paul’s East Side. For those short on cash but long on vision Da Hood is not a problem but an opportunity.
This and many other examples show the real stakes in the immigration ban – the heart and soul of the relentless ability of our nation to renew itself.