"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Finding A Safe Space–Refuge From Political Hysteria

By now everyone gets it.  Donald Trump has won the 2016 election and is now President. Democracy, once again, has prevailed.

Yet although the people have spoken, and the will of the electoral majority known millions of people find the results impossible to swallow. How could a misogynist, racist, homophobic, xenophobe possibly be President of the United States?

Not only has a clear signal been given that liberal policies and programs are to be rolled back if not discredited, but the Left, rather than organize to reformulate them, make them more acceptable to the majority - 'diversity' and 'inclusivity' still have relevance and traction - and form a loyal opposition, have decided to dig their heels in and do their best to topple the new president.

Be that as it may, America is plumb tuckered.  The Left may manage more protests against the new president’s executive orders, Cabinet appointments, and public statements of policy; and the Right will certainly continue its militant support of Trump and his initiatives; but we are all tired, exasperated, and just plain exhausted.

‘Too soon old, too late schmart”, goes the old Yiddish adage.  After a certain point, politics, political conviction, and even political philosophy mean little. More insightful bits about the human condition, the meaning of life, and the certainty of death can be found in Shakespeare, Conrad, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, and the Bible than any parsing of Donald Trump.

A close friend contended that friendship can only be realized between those of similar political philosophy.  There is no way, he said, that a believer in the assumptive and absolute power of the markets and free enterprise can have anything in common with one who believes in the restorative and redemptive power of government and the inevitable progress of human society.

“What’s the point,  he said, “in pursuing a relationship whose very foundation is questionable?”
Not only is the nation divided by political loyalties; but individuals are at odds as never before on the basis of political philosophy.

Dogfights are common.  Those who champion individualism, free speech, and universal respect for Christian values will continue to scrap, bark and bite against those advocates for secularism, moral relativism, and the primacy of civil codes.

It would be all well and good if the contention stopped there – a legitimate disagreement over the foundations of morality, their social application, and relevance to the institution of state.  Plenty of room for disagreement, concordance, and mutual respect.

Contention, of course, does not and cannot stop there. Liberals have invested not only their political convictions in the recent election, but their moral and ethical values.  Conservatives have not simply voted for a man who represented free enterprise, traditional social values, and a muscular patriotic international posture, but one who was of the same political faith.

Under these conditions it is understandable that the electoral campaign is not over.  Although the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell stated the obvious – losers go home and winner set policy – Hillary supporters who have invested far more of themselves than simple political preference are still hurting.  While Donald Trump is in the White House, complaisance is tantamount to moral dereliction.

Winners – the 60 million voters who endorsed Donald Trump - are gloating.  They were right all along.  The moral corruption, political ineptness, and arrogant secularism of the Obama
Administration was bound to collapse on itself.  To the victors go the spoils, and the new President is appointing a cabinet and White House advisers who will dismantle the old and reconstruct the new.
All of which leads to endless, repetitive, contentious conversation. Both winners and losers cannot seem to move on and turn the page

Too many personal values have been invested in the election.  Political preferences are easily tossed out after an election; but philosophical values are far more anchored.  It is not so easy to admit that a new era of individualism and the rejection of the old social parameters of race, gender, and ethnicity is actually here. 

Even with the brouhaha over hanging chads and allegations of a rigged election, it was much easier to relax - either happy or resigned - after George Bush’s defeat of Al Gore than it is now. Although the philosophical lines were well enough drawn between the two candidates, their differences were still doctrinal, not personal.  It is far harder - impossible in fact - for liberals to accept a man whom they consider misogynist, homophobic, sexist, and xenophobic – an incarnation of all they despise.

For the Right, Trump is no less than a personal savior – an incarnated prophet who will restore God-given individual rights, Biblical respect, and historic nationalism.

So what to do now? Relax, let bygones be bygones?  Gracefully accept defeat, withdraw, consolidate as the patriotic opposition? Rejoice in victory but take no prisoners or scorch Democratic earth?
Hardly.  Those who voted for Hillary Clinton because of deep philosophical commitment – a progressive woman who stood for gender, race, and ethnicity rights and all that was morally superior or ascendant – cannot possibly lie back and let que sera sera.  It is a matter of principle.

Those who knew that elitist government interventionism was now dead and buried or at least moribund have a right to cheer if not to gloat.  It has been eight years at least that conservative individualists have suffered at what they consider an arrogant liberal majority.  It feels good to have a president in the White House who is committed to roll back the progressive agenda.

It has been a month since the Inauguration, enough time for liberals to get over their defeat, as surprising and unexpected as it was; to have licked their wounds clean; to have restored backbone and courage; and to have moved on to participate in the loyal opposition.  Much of the rest of America has tired of their protests and demonstrations; and wonder how long it will be before they too run out of steam, accept the inevitable, look to resolve the personal issues which have led to such public association, and, as Mitch McConnell said, go home.

It is also time for conservatives to stop the gloating, holier-than-thou sanctimony and ‘I told you so’ arrogance.

In other words we all need a break.  We need quiet sanctuaries and refuge.  Our minds were made up long ago.  There  is no reason whatsoever to continue the political wars.  To convene, strategize, and attack the opposition, yes.  To reassert the ad hominem accusations against the President and his family, no.

A close friend of mine, a former news junkie, recently pulled the plug.  He no longer reads the NYT, the WSJ, and WAPO every morning.  Except for a desultory listen to the BBC World Service, he is now free from politics. He no longer surfs the minor channels either.  He has retreated into his own world – one which is no less political but what he says is far more essential – Plotinus, Augustine, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Sartre.

Millennials, older Americans, and young adults are all feeling the same pressure.  They are swamped by information, hysterical opinions, and apocalyptic claims.

“What is behind all this fol-de-rol?”, my friend asked.

The common ground – the playing field where liberals and conservatives can meet – is philosophy.  Not what Trump says or does, but what his actions mean in the wider context of history.  How classic liberalism and radical conservatism can possibly co-exist.  Whether a belief in social progress or in the sanctity of the individual one can find a level playing field.

“Get a life”, said Herman Baker, a regular at the local Starbucks at 5:30 am opening time, “and mine is growing short”.  Seventy-five, reasonably healthy, but seeing the end of the tunnel, Herman said he had no more patience for nonsense.  It wasn’t so much that he had heard it all before, but that ‘it’ was becoming more and more pointless.

Herman was no victim in need of refuge from abuse.  He was as determined and forthright in his views as anyone; and as competent as anyone in his defense of them.  He needed no safe space – a protected enclave – but simply a quiet place, a secular chapel, where to contemplate.

The election and its aftermath have unintentionally provided us with a new perspective.  There are those who not only cannot give up gracefully but who have vowed to fight to the end; but there are others who have learned from this most divisive and contentious of seasons to let go.  If we needed anything to encourage us to focus on life and things to come it was the election of 2016.

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