How Did We End Up Here?

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Here we are, the United States of America, united not so much.

Near the end of our nation’s electoral process we will see two of the most unpopular, unwanted, undesired candidates at the top of the tickets of our political parties we call by the names Republican and Democratic, although neither appear to quite properly invoke the spirit of their names.

The Republicans are led by a candidate whose instincts are alarmingly autocratic and demagogic, while the Democrats, whose ranks seem to be simmering with a fervor for democratic change, are led by a woman who is perceived as the personification of self-serving and rigid establishment habits. The Republican seems to have identified the strong and angry discontent among certain groups in the country and seems talented in stoking it into near-fury, tinged with fear of others.

The Democrat brandishes the hope of a new inclusiveness and unity in solving the country’s problems with optimism, but her persona appears uninspiring and unconvincing.

The choices seem to lie somewhere between a bellicose projection of power, tinged with resentment and fear, or support for practical, even inspirational problem solving through unity, tinged with a disquieting mistrust of the head of the ticket.

How did we get here, so paralyzed, so apparently robbed of our politics of comity and community?

The world around us has been changing — and changing us. The new technological tools and toys in our pockets, our offices and homes are changing the world and changing us. We live in a world where massive numbers of jobs, which were part of our daily life and daily bread, no longer exist. We are buffeted daily by violence — terrorism without and terrorism within, and violence in our towns and cities — which threaten to become what’s almost casually described as the “new normal.”

Everywhere, groups of people are yelling, shouting, pushing and shoving and worse, crying out: attention must be paid to us, and to the danger of the others, who are not us.

Meanwhile, our politics and politicians have — if not serenely, at least steadily — continued to behave in much the same way they always have, spreading dissent and blame among the body politic, while in effect doing nothing.

Seventeen individuals thought they could be the Republican nominee for president, a situation that, in the end, produced the man least prepared in terms of experience in governance.

As for the Democrats, Hillary Clinton was poised from the beginning to become the first woman to be nominated by a major political party, but she comes to that endgame this week with enough baggage to fill an ocean liner and deep skepticism brought about by a desire for something different.

What about us, you might ask? Whatever shall we do? We have been pushed into corners of identities — of party, gender, race, wealth and poverty — by the political process itself. We have been backed into corners of bad choices, of big and small groups where we talk only to ourselves and a little to our neighbors.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to insist that the candidates inspire us, to look up with energy and enthusiasm, instead of sideways, askance at our neighbors.

Let’s insist that they listen to us, and make us listen to them for the example they show us — not the lies they tell us or the slogans they brandish. Insist they stop posing and posing, stop gaming the system, and start trying to reach our better angels, our hidden optimism and our basic humanity.

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