It’s the one on the right, Jack!

June 18th, 2012

As I was sitting at the intersection this morning, waiting while the good citizen in front of me tried to remember which pedal to push to make his wheeled cage move forward, I perused the bumper stickers and vanity plates proclaiming his fandom for various sports teams and thought about what herd animals we humans are, always seeking some group to grant our allegiance in contradistinction to all other groups.  Why this allegiance rests so rarely with the species as a whole and so often with some more-or-less arbitrary subset thereof, what Kurt Vonnegut called a granfalloon, is a mystery for greater Darwinians than me to figure out.  It just is that way.

I recalled an occurrence at that same intersection the day before.  Due to repaving work, two lanes narrowed to one just to the east of the crossing, a right turn from where I was.  At this busy commuting hour, the merging traffic moved sluggishly, when it moved at all.  If you wanted to turn right, you were S.O.L.  I was among those who wanted to go straight through.  Instead, I sat through cycle after cycle of the traffic lights, as people drove into the intersection from the left and were stopped there by the unmoving traffic to the right, creating a blockage.  When the cars ahead of them crept forward a little bit, they might make it out of the crossroads, there to be replaced by the next idiot who couldn’t wait for room to open on the other side before entering and who was consequently caught there when the lights changed.  And so it went.  

Acutely aware of my own mounting frustration and impatience, I mused upon the level of stupidity on display in this random selection of the populace, as driver after driver entered the intersection without any apparent concern as to whether there would be room to get out again on the other side, in the face of abundant evidence that indeed there would not.  I also thought about the level of compassion on display, since getting stuck in the crossway inevitably meant you were blocking countless other people from getting where they wanted to and perhaps needed to go.  Each of the drivers proceeding so heedlessly had to be granted, as a human being, some capacity for compassion – but there was also the human disinclination to accept the discomfort of exercising this faculty, particularly when it conflicts with our national ethos of “I got mine.”  To be fair, callous self-interest is by no means an exclusively American characteristic, but it certainly does occupy a high position in our compatriots’ regard, as evidenced by their willingness to mistake a private equity capitalist for a captain of industry and a captain of industry for a shepherd of the people.

So it was not much of a distance from “I got mine” to thinking about how Mitt Romney and the GOP might win this thing.  Among the reasons Obama won the 2008 election was his unusually successful appeal to the better angels of our nature.  He aroused in a broad electorate the kind of genuinely heartfelt enthusiasm that normally is confined to a candidate’s more fervent partisans.  For many, it made election night a feelgood experience, like when a television drama ends with a hug.  When Sarah Palin taunted Obama a little over a year later, “How’s that hopey changey stuff workin’ out for ya?” she mostly revealed her own mean-spirited loserdom, but she also hit on a truth about the situation.  Relationships which begin in feelgood moments tend not to repeat them, unless the relationship matures.  They founder into the unglamorous diurnal.  Obama has been visibly engaged for almost four years in the day-to-day business of governance, with all its compromises, disappointments, complexity, unclarity.  Consequently, inevitably, the emotional surge that helped bring him to office has dissipated, and many people who miss that good feeling are going to blame him for their emptiness, just as they do when their relationships break up over the stress of the dishes in the sink and the hair in the bathtub.  “There’s nothing cold as ashes, after the fire is gone,” as the song goes.  Meanwhile, Mitt’s out there appealing to American tribalism, greed  and stupidity.  How’s Obama going to counter that?  Has the public’s relationship with him matured?

This entry was posted on Monday, June 18th, 2012 at 11:32 pm and is filed under Daily life, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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