I don't wanna get political here, but...
Reimagining how we talk about how we live together
I think about politics a lot, but not the Twitter aspect of it and not people and parties. I think about the way we talk about politics and what we expect from them. What’s bizarre is the two opposing ways we tend to approach politics. The first is as a mechanism for living together. The second is as a way of forcing people to do what you want.
If there’s any political consensus in this country it appears to be that the second way of doing politics is best. That is an absolute crime, and we are all guilty of it. Worse, I don’t know that we know that.
“I don’t want to get political,” is one of the most ironic statements in the language. It always has fascinated me. What we usually mean by it is that we like whomever we’re speaking with and don’t want to hear something hateful from them. Alternatively, we don’t want to offend someone we think might fundamentally disagree with us.
When we say we don’t want to “get political” we’re engaging in the first kind of politics. We’re talking about how we should live together and one of those ways is not alienating people we like.
Why should we worry about that, though? How tenuous are our relationships that we feel like we need to protect them from the larger conversation about how to best get along? Too tenuous, and there’s no good reason why.
It’s easy to blame television or the internet, and there’s a little truth to that. As an older person, I came up in a time when difficult conversations about politics felt easier to have. It wasn’t just that news sources were more monolithic (that will always be a problem), but allegiances seemed a little less rigid. Maybe it was because I was young and couldn’t tell the difference but I don’t recall people just parroting what they heard on a.m. radio.
Increasingly I want to grab friends and shake them and tell them that I pretty intentionally don’t watch Rachel Maddow and certainly don’t want to hear a recap from them. This isn’t a dig at her in particular, but polemicists aren’t good for politics. Listening to them is a step below reading the headlines and feeling as if you’re informed.
What they provide, instead, is an endorsement of the second kind of politics, the scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners approach to making people do what you want.
I wrote recently that we use facts like pool noodles, hitting one another to no use beyond our own amusement. To extend the metaphor, pundits are the people standing around the pool handing out noodles and telling us how to hit one another with them. That is their job. They don’t contextualize, they polarize, and as they do they undermine the very notion of politics as a cultural negotiation.
I waded closer to that world than makes me comfortable this week, writing my first series of political analysis in response to a strange power grab in my little town. There are three guys who want to be elected as an immediate majority. They don’t have any plans or ideas and, after watching them for months and seeing the way they have used people’s righteous fear and anger for political gain, I began to suspect they don’t have the town’s best interest at heart.
That was confirmed when their supporters sent out an attack ad exploiting and lying about the police department. It sparked a general fear that I was missing something big. When people start dumping a not-insignificant amount of money into the Delmar, Md. election it is worrisome. You can read and follow the series here if you’d like.
In the wake of Covid, many towns now broadcast their meetings. If yours does, consider taking advantage of it. Just dip in and listen. It’ll cost you maybe an hour or so each month, but it is worth it. It isn’t so much about getting news from the source as it is adopting an active attitude. Maybe that’s the best place to start reclaiming politics as a way of trying to live together rather than an opportunity to force people to do what we want.
Keep the Faith,
I’m heading to New York again soon to participate in another Sherry Shriner documentary. I believe this one will be shorter but really don’t have a ton more information than that. I’ll tell you when I know.
I also had promised a podcast. Don’t be surprised if I make good on that before next week. We’ve had a kooky couple of weeks here at the Russo house. Throw in the breaking news and political intrigue and I just ran out of time.
I’ve been working on a war memoir with a retired Ranger. It is hard listening and harder writing but I feel as if I will have my feet under me by the weekend and there are excellent odds I’ll have a draft by the new year.
I’m approaching the halfway mark with the Dragged Into the Light audiobook. That’s another thing you may very well see before the new year.
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