I would like our leaders in Washington to know: I am so over the blame-game you play. You remind me of five-year-olds who, when confronted about how mommy’s cellphone got into the toilet with the toy boats, absurdly escalate their denials: “She did it!” “No, he did it!” “NO, SHE DID IT.” “NO, HE DID, HE DID!” “No, Chloe did it, Mom!” (Chloe being the dog.) It’s surreal, and I see right through you. As a mom, I would say to the kids, all of them, even when I knew one of them might bear more responsibility than the other: “Time out! Go to your rooms. You can come out when you have an idea for how to make this better.” Sometimes, the time out was as much for me as for them, because my temper was close to boiling over, and I too needed some space to cool down. “Mommy has just thisssss much rope left,” I’d tell them, holding my thumb and forefinger about an inch apart.
Inevitably, someone would emerge sheepishly from their room with a sincere apology, even if that little someone was not the primary “guilty” party. Why? Because she (or he) understood that our relationship was as important as mommy’s waterlogged cellphone or chipped wedding bowl. Hugs outweighed pride. I’d still be stuck with the broken whatever it was, but all sides, myself included, had learned something valuable about relationship, honesty, self-control, and taking responsibility for our share in a difficult dynamic. Skills sorely lacking in Congress.
It pains me to observe that our elected officials lack the basic relationship savvy and character development of five-year-olds. Continually, pathologically. Sadly, we see no “mommy” equivalent here. The President (our titular father figure? Gadzooks!) is more temperamental than an overtired three-year-old who doesn’t get his way in the grocery store. We’ve all seen it, the harried, embarrassed young mom with a preschooler wailing about Fruit Loops, throwing kiwis and broccoli out of the cart. “Stop that, Donnie,” says his exhausted mother, ineffectually. Donnie throws an avocado at her, shrieks “No!!!! I WANT FRUIT LOOPS”. She winces, smiles at you, mortified. Who knows, Donnie could be a perfectly decent kid, maybe he insists all insects be gently escorted outdoors rather than splatted with a newspaper on the kitchen counter. But all you’ve ever seen when you run into them at the market is Donnie in full-on meltdown brat-dom. It’s hard to like the kid. Then there’s the media, prone to childish exaggeration, often meeting our President toe-to-toe in hysteria. A “bombogenesis” is about to “pound” New England. (Read: there’s going to be a big snowstorm. Like, really big. We New Englanders are pretty used to them.) Headlines overflow with portentous, adversarial verbs like “looms,” “blasts,” “accuses,” “targets,” “pummels,” “explodes.” Don’t get me wrong: I believe we are living in dangerous times. But I don’t think that intensifying our rhetoric helps. No one ever got released because the hostage negotiator and the kidnapper were hurling insults at one another.
Some of this agitated language is doubtlessly caused by the fact that our President is a trigger-happy Tweeter with a short fuse. His stock-in-trade is pugilistic wordplay: He was once quoted as saying that “truthful hyperbole” is his favored communication strategy. That’s a pretty sophisticated construct, when you think about it. Hyperbole, per Google dictionary, is “exaggerated statements or claims not meant to be taken literally.” In other words, lies of degree, kind of. But truthful hyperbole? Isn’t that an oxymoron? Technically, yes, but it’s also sort of brilliant. I believe DJT to mean: you exaggerate, embellish or distort the facts, but emotionally, you’re telling “the truth.” (The tactic has a history of ill-use by a number of authoritarian regimes, as was rightly pointed out this week by Senator Jeff Flake in his speech defending the press on the senate floor. There IS an adult in the room, except none of the kids are listening….) The President’s base is totally with him on the whole truthful hyperbole thing. If you are willing to listen to them, they say that his extreme irreverence and hostility towards virtually everyone who doesn’t agree with him is exactly why they voted for him. Many of them report they don’t really expect him to build an actual wall, it’s a cypher for precisely what his Administration is doing: rounding up “others” and indiscriminately escorting them out the door. Here’s both a factual and an emotional reality in US history: The dominant voices in power have consistently subjugated or erased minority rights, from indigenous Native Americans to African slaves to World War II era Japanese-Americans to the contemporary excoriation of Mexican, Haitian, Salvadoran, African, Muslim and any other immigrants not from Norway. Choleric, arm-flapping President Trump is his base’s cathartic, bull-in-the-china shop, tear-the-whole-thing-down mascot and this to them is a good thing; he accurately represents both their emotional state—angry, hopeless, fearful, antagonistic towards a mainstream culture that is out of sync with their values or daily lives—and their political agenda, which has been quashed by liberals, the courts, media, professional football players, Hollywood, Washington, late night comedians, etc. Not even POTUS’ supporters uniformly endorse his tweets or outbursts, but most of them adore his policies and his bluntness. And who am I to say the feelings of such folks are wrong, to deny the emotional underpinnings of their animus towards people like me–white, educated, affluent, elite—who embrace marriage equality and champion diversity, blathering on about the science behind human-driven climate change when their livelihood depends on coal mines. My issues feel alien to their mores, tone-deaf to their needs. What will not help them or me, in this instance, is to solidify in our opposition, to go off and consume those media sources that most inflame our self-righteousness, slinging put-downs at each other based upon caricatures. Like our Congressmen and women and Senators do. As our President does. There’s little out there for us, in the culture, to help us all act like grownups, exercising self-control and patience, listening with care to our opponents. It’s a quandary, how to productively advocate, to stand and speak with clarity, to listen with an open mind and yet respond with moral authenticity when all the preschoolers in the joint are in full-bore, sugar-overloaded, nap-deprived, turn-losing, hair-pulling, name-calling havoc. And you’re just little you, one person, a teacher or an artist, an executive, a grandmother, a soldier, doctor, truckdriver, business owner, a teenager or college student. What difference can you make, while your leaders are busy launching toys at each other in the sandbox?
Don’t these people work for us? Don’t we pay their salaries? Shouldn’t they at least make a good faith effort to do their jobs, to demonstrate basic efforts at teamwork and compromise, like the rest of us have to do in our work and relationships?
My husband John and I both subscribe to daily email meditations from the Franciscan Priest and Christian mystic Richard Rohr. I don’t read them as consistently as John does, and often he’ll flag one for me that he thinks is particularly compelling. He sent me a piece yesterday morning that was complex and beautiful. Just what I needed after listening to the news in the car, with Republicans and Democrats petulantly deflecting blame for the (dare I say it?) looming government shut-down, representatives from each side flatly refusing to accept a scintilla of responsibility for the impasse. I’ll include the link at the end of this post in case you’re inclined to read the entire meditation, but here’s a nugget I find particularly helpful:
- God is One and for all.
- God is not subject to any group ownership or personal manipulation.
- God is available as a free gift, not through any sacrificial system (which only strengthens the ego).
- God needs no victims and creates no victims, but false religion always does.
Jesus suffers in solidarity with all humanity. He refuses to project his suffering elsewhere or blame others.
That boldface type is mine: Think about how the world might look if each one of us refused to project our suffering elsewhere or blame others. That’s a tall order. Yet it’s what we teach our children when they’re young. And perhaps, what we each need to relearn in this moment of hostility.
How many times did I sit with Nate and Lucy at the kitchen table, helping them untangle the threads of blame for a childhood disagreement?
“He took my book!”
“She wrecked my fort!”
“Well, he wouldn’t let me play in his ugly fort!”
“Well, she wouldn’t let me look at her stupid book!”
Underneath the finger-pointing was a clear desire on the part of both children, brother and sister, for connection and unity, for a shared experience. He just wanted to read her book, because she loved it and he loved her, and because when she was reading it, she was ignoring him and his really awesome fort. And she totally wanted to play with him in the fort but was pissed that he took her book – honestly, he did build the coolest sofa cushion structures, and besides, she adored him. So first of all, they were, hello, children. Their bickering was developmentally appropriate. As kids, they lacked the skill or maturity to express or even to identify their need for each other, while also navigating the complexity of being separate individuals, the tension of rivalry and jealously even in the presence of deep attachment. What they had going for them was love, family connection, and adults to help them understand why they were so upset with the other, to teach them how their own behavior only worsened the situation, hurting their relationship and often resulting in the loss of the very thing they wanted: the book, the fort, the play, the closeness. Many times, the solution to their tiffs was a win for both: Why don’t you go read the book together in the fort? Why don’t we order half cheese, half pepperoni?
Regardless of our “side” in the national dysfunction, book or fort, I believe we all want a functioning government. That’s a win-win. We all miss a civil society. Also win-win. We all crave mutual respect even in the face of passionate disagreement. We need to culvitate the maturity to seek compromise over mere victory, and to accept our own, individual responsibility for the brokenness of our discourse.
God is One and for all. So let’s stop pointing fingers and help each other fish the cellphone out of the toilet before it’s too late.
More food for thought: Richard Rohr’s meditation on developing a personal relationship with God.