In these fraught times

Many USA voters from all parties might need one of these on election day, 2016.

Many voters from all parties in the USA might need one of these on election day, 2016.

“In these fraught times, our rhetoric must be toned down, our words more carefully weighed, even while we expose and correct the evils of the day. We cannot allow divisiveness and anger to replace e pluribus unum as America’s national theme.” 
Mortimer Zuckerman

Zuckerman’s words sound as if he was writing yesterday, don’t they? But actually, he published the article ending with that quote over two decades ago. This was an era we can hardly imagine now, before 9/11 changed the way Americans see the world, before there was a President George W. Bush, or a President Barack Obama, when many of the political controversies that currently divide us were scarcely a blip on the radar screen. Yet anger at politicians and the government and (sadly) at some of our fellow human beings was a problem then, too. It isn’t anything new.

Zuckerman’s words of warning against anger and division were timely and prophetic, but apparently little heeded. The media continue to feed upon every controversy, producing what Zuckerman refers to as “trash books, trash TV, trash newspapers, trash magazines, trash talk.” With Americans spending more and more time with various media, glued to one screen or another, perhaps it’s no coincidence that angry dissent and disagreement seem to be at an all-time high. Garbage in, garbage out? Are we becoming what we claim to despise?

On election day in November 2012, Jeff and I were told his liver tumors were almost certainly metastatic cancer, probably originating from a different site than the appendix cancer that had been removed. On that day I decided to go politically inactive permanently. In the face of devastating, life-changing news, I had a clear sense of personal priorities that left no room for what now seemed a mere diversion I had once found relevant and absorbing and important.

I could hardly have picked a better time to drop out of monitoring the political radar. This election cycle has been a great time NOT to watch or be upset by what is going on. I have paid enough attention to know there has been much in recent months to disturb anyone, on any part of the political spectrum, no matter the individual beliefs or affiliation. I certainly don’t want to add to the umbrage, so I want everyone to know that any comments here that are obviously an argument for, or against, one particular candidate, party or cause will be edited to remove apparent bias. I don’t want this to become a political forum. Everyone is welcome here, and how you vote– or don’t vote– is your business, no one else’s.

What I do want is for each of us to remind ourselves, and one another, of a few truths.  For all the world’s problems, we are living in a time of unprecedented blessing and progress on many fronts. No matter what needs to be changed– and there is unquestionably much that does, and we may disagree vehemently about the answers– surely we can agree that anger and hatred are not the way forward. The worse things become, the more we need each other.

I hope you will join me in resolving to defeat despair through the turmoil of this American election cycle. This will mean less hand-wringing, less finger-pointing, less dogmatism. It will mean more gratitude, more compassion, more reason, more patience. It will also mean a happier life, at least for me. Despite my proclivity to rant against this or that (to which my close friends and family can attest) I don’t enjoy being angry, and I intend to choose joy, no matter how much I may disagree with what happens around me.

So help yourself to a clothespin on election day, if you need one, or sit home and sip tea and give thanks for all the blessings that continue despite our human failings and frenzy. If you need to speak up, take Zuckerman’s advice and tone down the rhetoric, weighing your words carefully. Let’s get through this together. We’ve been through worse.

 

38 Comments

  1. I’ve not come across the ‘clothespin vote’ idea before, but it really resonates with me. I too have mostly disengaged from the political hullabaloo… we have a great MP for our constituency, but he’s not a member of either of our big parties; it helps, therefore, to keep my focus local and thus retain my sanity. Good luck with your election… I’ll be watching from between my fingers with my hands over my eyes here on the other side of the Atlantic

    • How wonderful to be governed by someone free of big-party affiliation. I think that’s an idea whose time has come, at least in the USA, because of all the big money control of both parties that have tainted the process so much. I do think focusing locally is a good tactic, too. One can have so much more influence on the smaller elections (school boards, mayors, court officials, county management, etc.) and in the long run, most of us will experience the results of those elections much more consistently and pervasively than we do the big ones. I love your description of “watching from between my fingers with my hands over my eyes!” That’s probably what I’ll be doing too. 😀

  2. Amen!!
    I made a similar decision couple years ago.
    I listen to the news(NPR Radio) as I cook breakfast. I take it with a cup of coffee…
    Just to keep informed.

    • Merry, I’m with you on NPR. That’s what I hear in the morning when the alarm clock goes off. Their voices are so quiet and calm, and their broadcasts are nice and short, followed by calming classical music. Like all media they have their biases (I was really put out with them for firing Juan Williams a few years ago, over NOTHING, in my opinion) but just being free from commercials is a good trade-off for any number of minor irritations.

  3. My belief is you vote in the voting booth, and that’s where it should stay. We are a United Nation so let the chips fall where they may. :o)
    Have a wonderful day,

    • Patricia, I agree! I will join you in a virtual cuppa on election day and pretend we’re in Sicily deciding what to have for dinner. 😀

  4. Nancy Blevins

    Well spoken, Julia..😉

    • Thank you, Nancy.

  5. Jack

    So convinced of our innate inability to handle power were the writers of our original founding documents that they brilliantly devised a system of checks and balances into the constitution that have proven effective and enduring through presidents both good and bad. Let’s hope they keep working!

    You want lousy governance, go to Venezuela. Or Cuba. Or Congo. The worst of the best here in the good ole USA is nirvana comparatively.

    • AMEN, Jack! You make some excellent points. Yes, the founders were justly suspicious of heavy-handed government, though the federalists were much less so than the Jeffersonians and other, lesser-known people such as Mercy Otis Warren, whom we can thank for the bill of rights, in my opinion.

      No matter how bad it gets here, I still think we have a long way to go before we sink to the level of anarchy and/or tyranny in many other places. I feel very thankful to have been born in the USA.

  6. G.K. Chesterton said: “Politics hasn’t been poisoned, rather it is poisonous.”
    My remedy to the madness is to refer to the truth. I stand beneath the cross and look upon it knowing that all in this world can’t get any worse than what the cross represents, nor can it get any better.
    -Alan

    • Alan, that’s a valuable perspective. It’s tremendously comforting to know that all this is not nearly as important as it often seems.

      I agree with you that politics has a corrupting influence. (Lord Acton was right!) That’s why I’m in favor of term limits for Congress, though I’m aware of the disadvantages of them.

      • Amen to term limits, Julia. Then we may get leaders who are motivated to empowering people-the one’s who carry the water for this country-rather than empowering themselves.
        -Alan

        • Thank you, Alan. I realize it’s valuable for legislators to have experience in how the system works, but they also need a very fresh memory of what it’s like to be a citizen and not a professional politician.

  7. Megan

    How very appropriate and timely. Thanks for the words that call for unity over divisiveness. Such resolve is certainly needed!

    • Thank you, Megan. Despite everything, I still believe that most people have more in common with each other than it might appear on the surface. The trick is to remember not to stay superficial with everything; not easy in a “sound-bite” culture.

  8. Raynard

    Julia sounds like time for a laugh. Here goes cough cough.As we Search for Tomorrow,sittingOn The Edge of Night The Days of our Lives pass like the sand in a hourglass All my Children does no bring Ryan hope as you pay a visit to General Hospital as you are no longer one of The Young and The Restless. I digress lol. Be blessed hope all is well this hot summer everyone was wanting last winter.Just had that birthday three weeks ago where you do AARP and the seniors discount meal at my local diner lol

    • Raynard, it is definitely time for a laugh! How are you and the ladies doing? We are OK. We are taking it One Day at a Time and sometimes we hit the Bonanza and have some Good Times despite the medical Jeopardy and Dark Shadows and the long line of procedures that start to feel like Mission:Impossible. I try to keep it All in the Family but here at this blog it feels as if it’s OK to talk about Family Matters sometimes. Then just when I am at the Outer Limits of my ability to tolerate living in the Twilight Zone, somebody such as you comes along to make me smile. Not trying to Get Smart with you, just getting in on the fun, and the Price is Right for the sort of laughs available here. A belated Happy Birthday to you! Have you made it back to the Shady Maple lately? Hope you guys are able to stay cool and enjoy what remains of the summer. Thanks for being here!

      • Sheila

        😀 Howdy Doody! I hope your day will be bright and through these times smiles may happen when you least expect them. I’m sending early morning “java on the porch” smiles and prayers! 💛🏖😎

        • Sheila, I TOTALLY needed that “java on the porch” moment today – I’m a sleepyhead! Thanks for waking me up; I’ve got lots to do. I got outside and did some yard work before the heat was unbearable, so now I’ve got to hit the schoolwork. Wish me luck, and keep those prayers coming! I’ll be back for a relaxing cup of caffeine-free tea this evening.

    • Raynard, you’re brilliant!

    • Sheila

      😀 Great comment, Raynard. Always smile at your words!

      • You and me both, Sheila! 😀 Who needs James Joyce when we have Raynard’s stream-of-consciousness commentary on life? 😀

  9. Julia, you’re brilliant too.

    • As the lion in the Wizard of Oz said: “Aw, shucks folks, I’m speechless.” 😀

  10. Sheila

    “There is hope and a future, stay pinned.” I read more about the clothespin vote and this quote was most encouraging. Im sitting out on my deck, enjoying early morning chirping, flag barely swaying, sunbeams appearing, visitors walking by on their way to the beach, and knowing how fortunate I am to live here, in the USA. Thank you for your words, once again. Well, I must move the body and make this glorious day HAPPEN…. First thing, OATMEAL! 💛

    • Yum, I love oatmeal! I like to mix it with my scrambled eggs, but it’s great by itself, with just some raisins or dried cranberries stirred in.

      Yes, we are lucky to live where we do. I’m content to let everyone else choose this year’s president. This will be the first time in my life, since the first time I ever voted (for Jimmy Carter way back in 1976), that I will not be voting at all (unless maybe in a local contest; haven’t decided on that one). Meanwhile I am channeling my inner David Lipscomb (the pacifist founder of my alma mater, who didn’t believe in any sort of political involvement). I keep telling myself: I’m glad SOMEBODY wants to be President, because I wouldn’t have the job for all the tea in China! And in my case, that’s really something! 😀

  11. I used to think that shock media was restricted to the outrageous tabloid found on supermarket magazine racks at grocery stores and drug stores. Such sensationalistic writing are nothing new in our history. The dime novels and sensationalized writings of our outlaws in Western times made petty criminals famous. Who doesn’t know the stories of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday?

    Today’s media has gone mainstream with the stories I feel were of their own making. I feel the rioting and protests of today are directly fueled by media. Why riot if you’re not going to be on the 6 o’clock news?

    Political contestants are not held responsible for the accuracy of their speech. Political journalism used to check their facts before publishing them. Not any more!

    I wish I could vote for a genuine good guy/gal instead of settling for the least terrible option. I still haven’t decided where my vote will fall and I’m down to less than 90 days to pick one. Maybe I’ll write in my vote for Pat Paulsen one more time. 🙂

    • Bob, your comment brings several things to mind. I didn’t eve know about the dime novelists and their role in the history of the American west, until I read the book Anything for Billy by Larry McMurtry. It’s about Billy the Kid, as told by a dime novelist who knew him personally. Not your typical portrait of him, that’s for sure. It’s been years since I read it, but I really enjoyed it.

      RE: the downward spiral of journalism, SO TRUE. I think it must be partly because the media world is so 24/7 and competitive, and it’s so hard to hold people’s attention, which for the media, translates to big advertising dollars. But your question “Why riot if you’re not going to be on the 6 o’clock news?” reminds me of an interesting experience I had while substitute teaching middle school in Hawaii. My favorite school to work at was a fairly rough, older school where about half the students lived in the projects. There were lots of gang fights between the African-American and Samoan gangs. The first time one happened while I was there I was terrified, but was amazed at the lackadaisical responses of the seasoned teachers. As soon as a fight broke out, the office would ring the “riot bell” – a long, uninterrupted sound from a piercingly loud speaker. Students had until the end of the bell to be in class. When the bell stopped, we as teachers were instructed to lock our classroom doors; any students not in by the end of the bell were sentenced to detention. Students took it quite seriously. Someone explained to me that the gang fights were all for show, and the safest and best way to break them up was to deny them an audience, which they did with that system. Apparently, it worked quite well. I never knew of anyone actually being injured in such “fights.”

      Pat Paulsen! An excellent choice, assuming he’s still alive. He always cracked me up, and we could surely use a good laugh right now. Not to mention he’d probably be as effective as the choices we’ve had lately. Maybe more so.

      • Pat Paulsen passed away in 1997.

        • Wow, that’s almost 20 years ago! I must have heard about it and just forgot.

  12. HarryS

    Are these clothespins to put on our noses when we go to vote?

    • Exactly!

  13. Good morning, Julia!
    Among it all, there are people diligently at work to unite us, to heal us, and to mend our tattered hope in humanity. I think you’ll like the story about Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Atlanta.
    https://m.facebook.com/houseunitedmovement.org/
    Blessings!

    • Susan, I did like reading about that church in Atlanta, “the city too busy to hate” as I’ve heard it said. I also liked reading http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/07/magazine/why-calls-for-a-national-conversation-are-futile.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0, which ends with a very good point: “…empathy isn’t a realization you come to by having a conversation with the nation. It’s a conclusion you reach first in conversation with yourself.”

      • Yes, it does end with a very good point. The other theme that resonated with me was that these “conversations” seem to have too much to do with talking, and not enough to do with listening and really hearing. Thank you for sharing (and the notice says that I have “nine remaining free” articles that I’m allowed to access this month 😀 )!

        • How true; so few of us seem inclined to listen more than we talk. (Those article limits can be annoying, but I suppose I should appreciate having any freebies at all.

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