Towards a more decent 2017

Politics are not a staple of Working Scribe and any number of other sites can slake the reader’s thirst for yet one more red Solo cup of politics from 2016’s skunked keg. Some things are more important in valence and precedence than politics – many things, in fact, but to talk about these things, we have to talk (a little, sorry) about “that thing.”

I don’t know whether the world I thought I once knew disappeared, or was never there, or was the mere reflection of a happy childhood, replete with Big Bird and 2nd grade teachers and Goofus and Gallant in every monthly issue of Highlights magazine. Our culture seems so brutal, so indecent, with no monopoly anywhere on indecency.

Could one have imagined a presidential candidate dismissing a majority of his opponent’s supporters – roughly a quarter of the republic’s electorate – as a “basket of deplorables” in 1996, or 1984 or 1960? Can one imagine living through the demeaning behavior and language that characterized a major candidate’s campaign persona? The mere language necessary to discuss the current events of politics, the lexicon, is not suitable for a 4th grade civics class. Politics isn’t just nasty, it’s too nasty even to discuss in social studies. This wasn’t true when I was in the 6th grade in 1980, when we held class mock elections in my Catholic elementary school. (The Republican won, and I backed the third-placed candidate – familiar pattern.)

Most people aren’t saints, but most are decent most of the time. Yet we have this indecency in our politics. It seems as if politicians had forgotten how to appeal optimistically and positively to the common (okay, not universal, but common) decency of most people.

After the election, I saw posts from advocates for a losing presidential candidate urge their comrades not to go for Thanksgiving to the parts of the country where the winner’s supporters predominated, urging instead that they host dinner and teach their benighted relatives “how people should be treated.” This is, in fact, not how people should be treated.

We hear “decency” used in reference to sexuality, especially out of the mouths of preachers and politicians seeking money; public indecency, for instance, does not refer to cruel words uttered on a sidewalk but to an unauthorized exposure of human skin. There is a place for decency standards in sexual matters but we have become indecent in so many issues greater than nudity or sexuality. Most of life is about other matters; even pornographic actors spend most of their lives NOT having sex. Christian friends of mine have noted that their Bible talks a lot more about money, especially helping the poor, than about sex. They and many others of similar sensible priorities have a point.

It is far easier to be indecent to strangers and outsiders, what some sociologists and social activists call, awkwardly, “the other.” I fear that we have become a society where there is no “society”, rather a basket not of “deplorables” but of isolated and mutually indifferent (or worse) gel capsules. In 1980, MTV did not exist except as a ambitious idea and cable was barely in existence; national television including respected television news had three major networks and pretty much that was it. I recall saying the word “indivisible” in the Pledge thousands of times; yet that word tells a lie. We are extremely divisible and have been micro-divided, as it turns out.

May 2017 give us a greater sense of being in “one nation”, ideally without the unifying force of a horrible tragedy. As for me and mine, we will eat dinner tonight in peace and health in the Red State part of Maryland, and play cards. and be decent and loving to one another, remembering a more unified and decent time, our different politics notwithstanding. May you enjoy a very decent and Happy Thanksgiving with you and yours, and may the end of this year soon start a more decent one for us all.

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