Oh, by the way, we may be sinking. It certainly seemed that way in the fall of 2008, when the mortgage crisis pushed a number of banks towards collapse, and some did. Now it is spring of 2012 and we are still afloat and seem to be taking in less water than we are pumping out. Not ship shape, but afloat, and the economy seems to be slowly picking up steam, though that is only really encouraging to those who have jobs. Most people I know still live at the level of 2008, but a few who fell in the water back then are still looking to get back on board. Having a job or not is one of several chasms that separate Americans here and now.
Few look upon our future with equanimity, not when our central government is borrowing $.40 of every dollar spent. At least that’s what I commonly here. Our national debt is like an ever growing iceberg that appears dead ahead. Those who want to cut spending are at logger heads with those who oppose the cuts to the least fortunate among us, while a number of the most respected economists believe by cutting spending right now we will slow down our recovery. Perhaps throw it in reverse.* And, of course, Europe’s financial problems lurk in the background. They too might sink us. Greece, the birth place of Western Civilization, now may prompt its collapse. The irony is juicy but the potential is frightening.
What makes matters so much worse is that our public discourse has become so polarized that we have trouble having civil discussions about possible courses of action. We have the right and left pulling so hard in opposite directions that we can’t change course. Politics has always been a touchy subject, but now it seems taboo unless you have pre-screened for sufficiently like minded folks.
As these poles have grown farther apart, we have lost figures of authority who were widely seen as arbiters between truth and falsehood. CBS anchor Walter Cronkite comes to mind, named “the most trusted man in America” in a 1972 poll. ” Now is there anyone in America that most of us trust?* Whatever you say, someone else pegs you as having an agenda. Even science has lost much of its stature as arbiter of truth when it comes to anything socially related, with some treating it as only more opinions among many.
Do you need a Tums yet, or maybe a stiff drink?
Adding to our problematic situation is the explosion of misinformation via the internet and social media. With a click we can forward all sorts of falsehoods far and wide, multiplied wider and wider with each subsequent click. That combined with politicians whose foremost concern is getting reelected rather than tackling our nation’s problems. In the process they polute the waters of public discourse by spinning the truth fast enough to make us dizzy. These days, it is not enough to take every bit of information with a grain of salt. We need so much salt that most information is unpalatable.
Much of what I have just stated seems common knowledge, but when you get down to specifics, hardly anything is. That is what particularly disturbs me. Not only do we as a nation face huge problems, we don’t share a sense of what their causes and solutions are. And, for the most part, our public media seems to contribute little more than an irksome minute by minute analysis of the chances of a number of candidates a majority of us wouldn’t want as president.
Thank God the pool has apparently dwindled down to a contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. While I favor the former for reasons you will learn if you continue reading this blog, I’m not sure it matters much which of them becomes president when it comes to the problems outlined above, unless he also gets sweeping majorities in both houses. These problems are too big and the chasms between us are too wide for much progress to take place unless one of the two parties clearly dominates, or some miraculous shift takes place in our common consciousness. Frankly, I am praying for divine intervention.
But can we do anything to help ourselves? Where to start? For me it is to try to sort out as much fact from falsehood as possible regarding important issues. To look for points of agreement among those not so polarized and rigidified as to proudly choose sinking farther as a matter of principle as opposed to patching the holes as best we can together.
If you’re interested in tagging along, move up to the About page indicated to the upper left, where I describe what I have in mind for this blog. OR, if want to just read another post right now, check out my second one below: A Bipartisan Love Story.
* 1. It has been speculated that to avoid the iceberg the Titanic was put in reverse to slow down, but in slowing down the turning radius was reduced.
* 2. Steven Rosenbaum has argued that Jon Stewart is today’s closest version of Cronkite.