Dear Vice President Biden
by Irwin Kula
Dear Vice President Biden:
A civil war in the country you want to lead has begun. Legitimate protests against injustice and inequity, understandable fears about cultural change, and justifiable anxieties and anger about economic uncertainty, vulnerability, and dislocation, have begun to metastasize and citizens are now violently attacking each other in the streets you will visit today. Increasingly, the only voices being heard from every group are the most toxic, and extreme.
We have seen this coming – some of us since the 60’s cultural disruptions, some since the 70’s Watergate scandal, some since the 80’s Reagan revolution, some since the 90’s Clinton political triangulation and moral ickiness, some since 9/11 or the 2004 founding of Facebook, some since the 2008 recession, some since the election of the first Black President and the rise of the Tea Party, and some since the election of Trump and the rise of the alt-right. You have lived through this entire period.
We the People have increasingly lost trust in institutions, in authorities, and, most dangerously, in each other. Close to half of us would be upset if our children married a person from an opposing political party- up from 5% forty years ago. We the People have outsourced jobs and financialized the economy, shredded the safety net, prosecuted an unending destabilizing war against terrorism, created an unsavory mix of surveillance capitalism and a burgeoning national security complex, reduced investment in our infrastructure, in our children’s development, and in R&D, watched a chasm of inequity develop, accepted an opioid epidemic that kills 50,000 a year, normalized shootings in schools and malls, looked away at the radically disproportionate incarceration of Black men, been entertained by Twitter trolling and cable television’s siloing of our body politic, allowed the news to become a form of entertainment driven by clicks, been indifferent to what we watch on TV, where we shop, what brands we trust, and even masks, that save lives in the face of an epidemic, become a source of division and tribal marking. We have chosen our sides. Family members, friends for decades, co-workers can’t stand each other and in many cases have stopped speaking…and not speaking is actually an upgrade to what has happened in Kenosha and Portland, where fellow citizens have violently attacked and killed each other. And we all know this is only going to get worse before or if it gets better whether you are elected or not.
There are a myriad of causes for where we are but systems theory teaches that, given we are all in this system called America, we have all played a role in getting here. It seems, however, that it is more painful for each of us and our own particular political/economic/ethnic/religious tribes to own how we have enabled this than to blame others and deepen the polarization, and demonization. The confounding thing is numerous polling shows that when it comes to the top political issues facing the country including race, immigration, health care, gun control, environment, and fairer tax policies the majority of the public – 70% or more Americans – actually agree, and sadly, the majority of Americans also agree on being afraid to share their political views with others.
The challenge you have is to bring together this more expansive “we”- a more inclusive “we” that integrates, (not compromises), the partial truths of the many voices in our public square who behind our overt divisions, agree.
Every person in this country, who believes we do not need to be so polarized, is implicated in creating this more expansive “we” in every conversation, discussion, and debate, in every decision about what to read, what media to consume, and what to like and share.
Today, Vice President Biden, you will travel to Kenosha to ostensibly try to heal the country. I hope that prior to going, you will have listened multiple times to Jacob Blake’s mother – Julia Jackson’s magnificent and powerful statement after the shooting of her son.
And then without mentioning the President, who has become a toxic obsession for liberals since the day he was elected, fearlessly, and empathically begin to reveal and nurture this more expansive “We.” With all your heart, you need to lift up the truths across our divides, that:
- YES, There is profound, painful, and dangerous racial injustice in this country that not only goes back to before the founding of this country, but exists in subtle and unconscious ways within all of us AND this country is NOT evil, nor irredeemable, nor founded on any original sin.
- YES, We the people have made enormous progress in creating a more racially just society since 1619, AND we have enormous progress yet to make which will take effort, responsibility, sacrifice, and goodwill on everyone’s part in every sector of society including from those unnerved by and even afraid of, protesters.
- YES, Protest is a sacred American right and has been a necessary part of all social change in this country, AND violence and destruction of property by any protestors is not only against the law, and dangerous, but fair or not fair, reflects on, and damages the cause of every peaceful protestor – who are in the vast majority.
- YES, Our country has failed to address the unfairness, inequity, and pain of millions of white working folk cruelly left behind as their towns and communities were decimated by globalization that greatly benefited a small, wealthy minority, AND no matter how justified people’s grievances and anger are, vigilante violence against fellow citizens demanding justice for themselves is evil.
- YES, We seriously need to address police brutality and violence, especially against people of color — to have a badge and gun, is to be given immense power, which calls not for limited immunity, but maximum and unambiguous accountability, AND the job of the police in a society with so much violence and so many guns, is one of the most dangerous. But fair, or not fair, brutality by any police officer reflects on and hurts every police officer.
- YES, white supremacists and politicians who exploit this moment, are shameful and contribute to the destruction of the very America they claim to be making great again, AND radical academic theories that turn every white person into a racist and see every issue through the lens of power, and identity are wrong, reductionist, and destructive.
Mr. Vice President, you surely get the idea. Do not speak to the extremists on all sides who are tearing this country apart, but to the 70% of Americans who do believe we are in this together – for the America you know well from 47 years of serving this country. Call on us to hold the extremes in our own groups accountable – to not be bullied by those on “our side” who are most angry or fierce, to not allow the desire for purity to cancel liberal conviction, or the desire for power to trump conservative principle. Rather, speak with your greatest virtue – your empathy – to the shared desire most Americans have to join as one nation, and to our common yearning to be decent, and to realize the noble, if elusive, promise of creating a more perfect union. This is the tough, good, and compassionate fight we need to wage.
And then shed tears for America.
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