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.
Per Kurowski, February 09, 2020 at 8:36 am said:
Have you kept the Republic?
For bank capital requirements risk weights of 0% government and 100% citizens were assigned.
That de facto implies politician/bureaucrats know better what to do with credit they are not personally responsible for than e.g. entrepreneurs.
Haven Pell, February 09, 2020 at 8:43 am said:
Provocative question. Definitely worthy of a story all of its own. My fist web publishing effort almost 10 years ago built on the “Republic, if You Can Keep it” quote by Ben Franklin.
David barry, February 09, 2020 at 8:44 am said:
Of somewhat corny provenance (to my mind), these words are a bit comforting: “… whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
Haven Pell, February 09, 2020 at 2:52 pm said:
hmmmmm…. I might not object if some of it unfolded differently
Peter W Bragdon, February 09, 2020 at 9:19 am said:
Henry Bragdon once commented, “America eventually gets there. It is the ‘eventually’ that is frustrating.” Eventually, the worst aspect of the Trump phenomenon will be shed, just the way the Know Nothings eventually lost their grip in the mid-nineteenth century — or McCarthyism in the mid-twentieth century.
Local politics continue to make progress for a better America, such as the the state-level moves regarding the environment.
Haven Pell, February 09, 2020 at 2:53 pm said:
A great rule of thumb is to do everything at as local a level as possible
Don Gleason, February 09, 2020 at 12:15 pm said:
The George Will remark is double-edged: A very large proportion of us apparently don’t allow ourselves to be tortured by our disharmony. But a miniscule proportion seem endlessly capable of fomenting and perpetuating it.
Haven Pell, February 09, 2020 at 2:54 pm said:
fomenting disharmony is a key aspect of getting candidates elected.
Carter Lord, February 09, 2020 at 12:40 pm said:
Absolutely right on!!
Haven Pell, February 09, 2020 at 2:55 pm said:
Thank you Carter.
Richard Meyer, February 09, 2020 at 5:30 pm said:
Having lived through the 1960’s I would say that, despite my feelings about the current administration, things are far better now than when Nam was raging abroad and riots at home. What has changed is the effect of 24/7 cable “ News”, much of it partisan, the influence of social media, the mass acceptance on both left and right of cockeyed conspiracy theories and the influence of blogs and talk radio.
Haven Pell, February 09, 2020 at 7:17 pm said:
though, of course, we are being kind about blogs…..