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Now that the internationalists and their kindred neoconservatives have had their moment in the sun and reestablished America’s “greatness” on the world stage, it is time to get back to the domestic challenge of trying to bring the reality of America into closer proximity to President Biden’s international version of an imperfect nation always seeking to be better and always better than other alternatives. While democracy versus autocracy has a nice ring to it on the outside, dysfunctional democracy at home is still dysfunctional democracy, hardly the posterchild for an ideological confrontation.

So it was a little disconcerting that during my recent road trip, the Democrats pissed away another month without the courage to act on their stated convictions in the face of the continuing Republican assault on the notion of shared governance for the common good. Talk of progress, incremental change, consensus, and bipartisanship continues to be a calling card among those too timid to embrace the national transformation that America’s institutions require to meet today’s challenges at home and abroad.

Even when not fulminating about rampant socialism, wounded White pride, voter fraud, and defunding the police, congressional Republicans and those they seek to embrace continue to invent new fantasies to drive their message and excuse their obstruction. To make matters worse, a significant component of the messaging about a post-pandemic return to “normal” includes the continuing empty promise of positive change for a better future for all. Hello Juneteenth, good-by the difficult challenge of doing something about the nation’s legacy that created Juneteenth in the first place.

Out and about in part of the American heartland for a month, as the pandemic seemed to fade from view, I had the sense that many in America simply wanted to party, seeking some mystical freedom from thought, and work, and pain. Daily gun carnage, voter suppression, unemployment, pandemic worries, crumbling infrastructure and the like all seemed to blow away in the face of loading the bait, starting the engine, and hitting the water. The only mention of climate change was the micro notion that the almost daily temperature fluctuations were mucking up the fishing.

In the meantime, while the water beckoned, a federal judge in California was favorably comparing assault rifles to pocketknives,* gun violence beat the coronavirus to the top of the death chart in many communities, the minimum wage was finishing second to not working at all, and heat, drought and wildfires began their annual march to increased human misery. Then just to show the country how best to ensure prosperity amid these evils, the great state of Texas added unregulated wandering wacko gunslingers to its list of model citizens, while doing everything possible to keep real model citizens from voting.**

Most disturbing of all, however, is the continued national resistance to public discourse that focuses on collective solutions to address the inadequacies of the present national response to even the most basic national needs. Think how much better off the nation would be if just about everyone got a COVID-19 vaccine. But no, not possible, because way too many people care way too little about the health and welfare of those around them. In its present incarnation as a cultural phenomenon, mindless adherence to non-critical thinking is America’s greatest barrier to collectively defining the common good and then acting to achieve it.

This same phenomenon finds its voice in every corner of the right-wing commentariat. In addition to the unexplained evils of some ill-defined socialism, “cancel culture” and whatever “woke” is supposed to mean are all the rage. As for “woke,” it is way past time for “woke” to be put to sleep. Its popular negative implication is aimed at those who rely to a great extent on an awareness of important facts and some capacity for critical thinking, often related to racial and social justice issues.*** Vilifying the “woke” surely suggests that those not “woke” are so proud of their ignorance that seeking knowledge is to be avoided at all cost.

As for all those terrorized by “cancel culture,” I have some breaking news. It is nothing new. It has been around for millennia. It is the foundation of virtually every organized religion in the world, as but one obvious example. Further, I imagine that each of us could come up with a list of people and concepts that we would like to see a lot less of, so I suggest we start by resolving never to buy a pillow made in America again and by pretending that “TikTok” is something special about clocks, and nothing more.

On the upside, it is good to see that Joe Biden is still President of the United States, and Kamala Harris can still laugh at the wrong time while continuing to work hard at the forefront of immigration reform and voting rights advocacy. But there is so much to do, and so few of the institutional components in place to do much of anything.

As if on cue, a condo building in government-resistant Florida “inexplicably” fell to the ground, killing dozens of people who had nothing to do with the decades of failed governance that permitted natural sand dunes to be turned into unnatural high-rise buildings. As hard as it to watch and as tragic as the final outcome is sure to be, the random human suffering that a pancaked condo building can bring to the fore is a vivid reminder that no one among us is immune if government consistently fails to act to ensure public safety.

That continuing failure remains all around us. It was there before I went on my road trip, and it is there now that I have returned. Progress on COVID-19 vaccination rates has slowed because no one has the political courage to penalize those who fail to get vaccinated for the public good. The Republicans and their police allies still remain silent in the face of a gun culture in America that only grows, along with the stock of armaments in private hands and the unregulated access to those armaments. Bridges and tunnels are no safer today than yesterday. And, by the way, the right to vote continues to be endangered every day in America, just as it is in so many of those countries that we, in America, like to think of as “third world countries.”

As if to help me sort all of this out, one evening in a forested state park in Minnesota, a porcupine wandered into my campsite. It was a clear evening, but quite windy. The porcupine looked at me and my red solo cup and the campfire, and opted to avoid confrontation. All good, as it moved away without damage to my tent or me. Then it made a major miscalculation and headed rapidly to near the top of a thin tree, only to get stuck there dangerously swaying in the wind. It eventually got dark and the wind died down. I imagine that the porcupine breathed a sigh of relief, timidly climbed down from its precarious perch, and resolved to try to avoid making the same stupid mistake again.

Like the porcupine, Americans have created their own perilous times, threatened mostly by their fears that have been hardened by willful ignorance. This leaves way too much of the path forward blocked by miscalculation and misinformation, followed by a breathed sigh of relief each time that the nation manages to escape disaster.

The next time, however, the nation may not be so lucky unless more of us commit to making our world less reliant on good fortune and more reliant on the determined good will of those around us. Sadly, a nation so awash in willful ignorance is highly unlikely to nurture the requisite collective conscience.

* - "Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment," Judge Benitez said in his ruling overturning a decades old assault weapons ban in California.


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