Bail-outs, ‘too-big-to-fail’, fiscal cliffs, the Obama-care scare, the debt ceiling, socialism…Terms like these get bandied about, contentless and expletive. U.S. political conversation both on the part of politicians and the populace, is laden with apocalyptic language and far from attempting to describe the demerits (it is always pejorative) of a position, is used simply to conjure fear and obfuscate any kind of detailed analysis. Even where legitimate concerns exist, there appears to be a rhetorical ‘race to the bottom’ in which, although the population at large would benefit from a frank and honest discussion, one party, or TV station, or ‘independent’ commentator can gain more for themselves by derailing the debate with fear-mongering and jingoism (ask yourself whether Rush Limbaugh and his ilk are more concerned with clarity and truth, or listenership and book deals). In this way, rational and informed voices are either forced to heighten their language or are squeezed out of the debate entirely.
One commentator or another is always spelling doom, as if voting into office the ‘wrong’ candidate or supporting/squashing a controversial bill, would surely mean the end of civilization as we know it. This message is sometimes delivered in so many words, as in the ‘1000 years of darkness’ Chuck Norris rant leading up to the 2012 elections.
Lest left-leaners get smug, it should be noted that this language is not the preserve of the far right. From Micheal Moore to Noam Chomsky the far left is as dismal in their predictions and damning in their rejection of current political/economic structures as are their right wing counterparts.
Although heated debate can be found the world over, in America, the force-fed diet of patriotism and hubris that all are subjected to from early childhood, has as its natural counterpoint a broad and undiscerning apocalypticism. It seems that to the extent one considers themselves the biggest, the best, the strongest, the most righteous, one harbours also a correlative fear of being toppled, undone, annihilated. This duality has deep roots.
Contrary to the notion of the ‘melting-pot’, from its inception onwards America has been characterised by attempts to define and delimit the community of true citizens. Each influx of immigrants, far from being welcomed, has had to carve out a space for itself, often literally, with much blood spilt in the process. This rubric went not only for immigrants of course, but also for the indigenous peoples who found themselves surrounded and often overwhelmed and displaced. They were forced to fight again for any claim to place or polity. America is not a community, it is a competition.
White America in particular, imbued with the Teutonic myth of manifest destiny, seems particularly to struggle with a double mindset of racial solidarity and fear of being overrun/turned out/disenfranchised. This has lead to an embattled self-righteousness that is particularly susceptible to apocalyptic ideation.
It’s good to be passionate. And it’s imperative to be involved. On these counts the average American is streaks ahead of the population in my native Great Britain, who, politically speaking, are overwhelmingly disengaged and lethargic. Wouldn’t it be nice, I often think, if some kind of Socratic synthesis could be reached, where passion and objectivity, politicization and pragmatism could find harmony.
In my experience, most attempts at serious discussion over the internet ultimately devolve into a polarised shouting match, and that is something I would dearly love to avoid here at the Salt Collective. So for my part I will try to season everything I say with a concerted effort to find the middle. This may sometimes look more like Devil’s advocacy, but I often find that in a serious attempt to justify the unjustifiable, nuances and subtleties are discovered which can aid in reaching the nub of an issue, thereby bringing clarity and maybe even resolution.