When summing up the year now fading, the catchall phrases that generalize a common view don’t work. It was neither the best of times nor the worst of times. In our fragmented politics, the center does not hold, and moving out to the edges of the frame doesn’t hold us together.
There’s lots of e pluribus and not much unum.
In her new book, “Braving the Wilderness,” togetherness guru Brene Brown accurately describes paradoxes that afflict what she calls “common enemy intimacy.” We hold on to ideological bunkers with echo chambers in which we can share a common bias flavored with rage. There are few common goals for the public good. The guru’s insight strikes me as the obvious truth of our times, sad as it is. Unifiers on either side of the partisan divide often prefer to point with righteous fingers at the other side rather than link hands to reach a righteous consensus.
We can see that in Congress, where the Affordable Care Act, i.e. Obamacare, was adopted by a Democratic Congress without a single Republican vote in the House or the Senate, and President Donald Trump’s Tax Cut and Jobs Act, i.e. the Republican tax-reform legislation, was adopted by a Republican Congress without a single Democratic vote.
The president plays to his base, using technology to leap over the institutional media. And the Democrats play to their base, leaving the rest of us to parse the truth from millions of tweets, active and reactive, a fragmented picture of where we are, if not who we are. No warm fireside chats unite us, but a lot of angry tweets and nonstop punditry divide us.
“Saturday Night Live” parodies Trump accentuating his yellow hair, but it’s hard to catch the essence of the man in a satirical skit. He doesn’t give us enough time between tweets to take him as seriously as we should. He requires a portrait by Picasso or a cubist rendering, with features flying off in several directions to capture his unique style. The same is true of the culture. We crave unity, but we unite only in our bubbles, where never is heard a discouraging word. Only the brave step out of their bubble to take an X-ray of the body politic.
This might offend traditionalists who revere Guttenberg and relish a variety of print sources from their own reading, but to many young adults of the iGeneration, Open Mind sounds like a reasonable start for someone willing to flee his bubble. The winning team’s prize is an audience with members of Congress. Second, prize should be an audience at the White House. The rest of us should pay close attention to their progress in the new year if any. We can all use a little help.