This rant has been building in me for some time. There are a lot of words below about the current sorry state of what passes as public discourse in America. Some of them profane. Many of them angry. Feel free to change the channel. Dave's podcast updates will resume soon.
I love my daughters. Deeply, unconditionally, irrationally love them. Takes my breath away, sometimes, to watch them do the things they love. They're smart, funny, talented, kind-hearted, and thoughtful.
My daughters are frequently incredible assholes to me, my wife, and each other. They're stubborn, hyper-competitive, by turns lazy and indifferent, and they piss me off on a regular basis.
These two descriptions are not mutually exclusive. It's possible to love and honor something with your full being while recognizing that it has flaws and might be improved.
In America today, however, there's no percentage in nuance. There's no political gain in perspective. You either love it, or you should leave it.
Case in point, a Facebook post that my mother shared on her feed recently. Mom's a reasonable, stoic New England type, and I'm quite sure her intent was to share the story, which is quite compelling, and not the political afterthought. I thought it was great, too, right up until the final two sentences. It's posted in its (long) entirety below:
My father, who readers of this blog know is buried at Arlington National Cemetery, raised me to honor military service in the same way he raised me to think for myself, and pushed me to be willing to defend my beliefs. In the years before he passed, we had some donnybrooks on a wide range of topics: politics, legalization of drugs, the Iraq War, among others. Frankly, I think that at least half of those arguments were him just pushing my buttons to see if he could get me wound up. He could. And I think he loved both the debate and the fact that I was eager to have it.
I can say with some certainty that he'd be really uncomfortable with the notion that our military is infallible and any criticism of it reflects some anti-American strain. Military leaders make mistakes, and so do troops on the ground. Drones strike civilian targets. Innocent people die, or get displaced. War, and the projection of force by any country, has deadly, ugly, tragic consequences.
Our military operates in our name, and reports to a civilian Commander-in-Chief in recognition of the fact that it is subservient to us. When it's wrong, it's not unpatriotic to ask for better. Rather, it's an act of patriotism to want the people that represent us held to the highest standards of behavior and performance.
The military isn't the only institution that's become a litmus test for patriotism. It's possible to believe that law enforcement officers in this nation have an incredibly difficult and dangerous job made more complex each day by emerging technology, the proliferation of weapons, and an ever-changing and watchful society. It also possible to wish that fewer Americans, especially those of color, were killed by law enforcement officers. A thoughtful person can hold both of these things to be true, and not demonize the police in so doing.
In a speech to the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago last week, President Obama himself made the same point, saying, “We’ve got to resist the false trap that says either there should be no accountability for police, or that every police officer is suspect, no matter what they do. Neither of these things can be right.”
Just a week prior, Obama offered his thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement, saying, "I think the reason the organizers [of the movement] used the phrase “black lives matter” was not because they were suggesting that nobody else’s lives mattered. Rather, what they were suggesting was there is a specific problem that is happening in African American communities that is not happening in other communities. And that is a legitimate issue that we’ve got to address."
Since it was Obama that made those objectively fair statements, half the country immediately thinks they're wrong. Had it been Ben Carson, a different half would. And therein lies the seemingly intractable problem.
Too many of us can't think for ourselves. We want to be told what to believe, because the world is a complicated motherfucking place, and we want certainty. And anything that dents our sense of certainty is obviously, objectively, wrong.
I've had more than one pointed argument with good friends over the past few years - decent, honest, smart people - about President Obama. Any time I offer facts about the things that have been accomplished during this administration, I'm met with invective about 'hating America' or some such nonsense. Facts don't matter. Feelings do.
Presidential candidate Jim Webb's son James took to the editorial page of the Washington Post several weeks ago to defend a comment his father made in a debate. The essential Jim Fallows published a back and forth between people deriding the younger Webb and those supporting him. That exchange is interesting, but the most salient point to me was made by a 20-something self-professed liberal, who said,
"We love America, but not the gay on the other side of the aisle. We love America, but not the guy in my own party who wants to compromise and win more voters than merely the core base at which we throw red meat political rhetoric. We love America, but not the liberal intellectual elites. We love America, but not the rural rednecks who think homosexuality and abortion are sins."
This implicates all of us. I'm no more exempt from that disdain for the other than those people who say Obama hates America. And for the life of me, I don't know how we change it.