Neighbor, how stands the Union?
Questions get tricky when there is only one acceptable answer and they get even trickier when they are asked by Daniel Webster, especially from the grave.
The Devil and Daniel Webster by Steven Vincent Benet is “a story they tell in border country, where Massachusetts joins Vermont and New Hampshire.”
It is also a story I was supposed to have read not too many miles north and east of there when I was at boarding school.
I have no recollection of ever having read it, but a classmate (who has become a loyal reader) did, and he referred to it when he wrote,
“We are divided today more than any time I can remember – by age, by class, by ideology…
What do you think about this? Am I too much “Gloom and Doom?” Is there a way to set this situation right?
I was taught by my father to be tolerant and to try to seek common ground with those whose beliefs seem to diverge from mine. Sadly, when I try to seek common ground with those who are Trump supporters, nothing seems to work.”
Obviously from the last sentence, my friend is a Democrat, but his question could just as easily have been asked about Democrats by the most ardent of Trump supporters. I know this because I hear it on a weekly, if not daily, basis.
His thoughtful – plaintive, even – question inspired me to read the story. It takes 15 or 20 well spent minutes. So what if I am 60 years late. If I’d read it when it was due, I would have forgotten it by now.
Am I too much “Gloom and Doom?”
The attempt to answer this question grew to almost 2500 words. I thought they were excellent words – verging on splendid – but there were too many of them.
The overwhelming majority of those words were about politics, and they led to the answer, “nope, in that arena, there is no such thing as excess “Gloom and Doom.” I hadn’t even gotten to the reasons for optimism.
The problem of too many words has two solutions. Throw some away is often the right one but it is tough on the lonely ego at the keyboard.
Use them in another story is a terrific compromise, so watch this space.
Nine in ten Americans report that they are happy with their personal lives. The thing that most needs fixing is the venomous political culture.
I draw comfort from a recent remark made by George Will, “at any given moment, 223 million out of 227 million Americans are not watching cable news.”
Less Politics, More Everything Else
In 2019, I rebranded from LibertyPell (mostly not cracked) to the Pundificator. I did so for several reasons.
First, politics had become too depressing. For those of us with hyperactive “fix it” glands, it is frustrating to observe a set of practices (system implies more intention than is deserved) that is so obviously self-serving and corrupt.
Worse, the political actors have the power to thwart most efforts to upset their apple carts.
Second, politics has vastly oversold its importance. Most of the things that make our lives good or bad, meaningful or meaningless, fulfilling or disappointing have far more to do with what we do for ourselves and others than with the things politicians and their henchpeople do “to” our adversaries, “for” us, but mostly “at” the country.
Thoughtful people have a desire to be informed and we are drawn to sources of information that we hope will guide us to that goal.
As businesses, newspapers are in sharp decline. Only a few will survive as online subscriber-based outlets. To survive they need readers because advertisers have fled to the internet. Instead of telling readers what they need to know to be informed, newspapers use pilfered personal data to feed readers a steady diet of the junk food they want to eat but know that they shouldn’t.
Audience sorting does the same for cable news. Whatever minuscule overlap there might be in the audiences of MSNBC and CNN on the left and Fox on the right is not better informed by hearing both sides. Rather, it is disgusted by the stupidity of the arguments.
In the list of politician priorities, raising money, getting reelected and positioning themselves to move to the money-making side of the trough rank far higher than doing the country’s business.
Focus on the Optimism
Over the last several hundred years, the well-being of humankind has skyrocketed. The World Bank had to adjust its indices to avoid running out of poor people.
The vast majority of Americans would rank in the top 1% of the world and few would be outside of the top 5%.
These are not reasons to declare victory, but they refute the notion of defeat that is steadily sold to us.
Is there more to be done? Of course. Focus on it. Fix it. But don’t use it as a political fund-raising tool or as a constant battle that is never allowed to be won because, if it was won, a new source of rage would be required.
The One Acceptable Answer
According to Steven Vincent Benet, the voice of Daniel Webster would ask, “Neighbor how stands the Union?”
“Then you better answer the Union stands as she stood, rock-bottomed and copper sheathed, one and indivisible, or he’s libel to rear right out of the ground. At least that’s what I was told when I was a youngster.”
The things that are most important are, by and large, going extremely well, but there is no money to be made in telling people that.
The answer might satisfy a person who is interested in life, but it won’t likely satisfy Daniel Webster, who was more concerned with government.
His concern is well founded but yours need not be.
I guess I am going to be haunted.