Somewhere in our distant past, before the internet or cable news or television or media or the written word, some clan of modern humans came to a point of disagreement. There was some problem. And in response to that problem some believed they had to push on to some destination at all costs. Others believed that they needed to take measures to make sure that everyone made it.
Though the settings may have been unrecognizable to you and me today, we would have recognized the argument. It is the underlying spirit of human political debate. And the thing that has separated us and enabled us to organize into the abstract but durable structures that serve as the foundations of modern world is an acknowledgement of a principle; that we have two things in common:
1-The tribe. 2-The problem.
The tribe has changed over the years. Kin. Gods. God. Cities. Nations. Economic systems etc. And so have the problems. Food. Barbarians. Energy. Economic Collapse. Ecological destruction…But there’s always the tribe. And always a problem. If we get to deny either of those, we solve no problems collectively.
There’s a consistent pathology in the American political debate. The chronic form metastasizes when we deny that we have problems in common. The easiest way is to simply say that a problem is not a problem and just push on. If we can’t deny it outright, we’ll get to work on making the case that the cure is worse than the illness. This should sound very familiar to Americans right now. The roads we’ve kicked cans down are long. And the cans we’ve kicked are many. And you can go on for quite a long time kicking them, but eventually there’s a reckoning. And the cycle moves on. It is the chronic American political condition.
The acute sickness is much more dangerous. It’s when we refuse to acknowledge that we are one people. Problems may be self-evident. But we deny that we have them in common. Because we deny we have each other in common. And so, some problems not only aren’t things to solve. They’re weapons to use against the “others.”
This cleavage is exactly the pressure point irregular warfare specialists like me looked for when we wanted to figure out how to weaken a state. Find the crack, pour in the water…and wait for winter to come. Let the physics of human conflict do the rest.
It’s winter time in America. A once in a century pandemic has brought us a problem that we can’t deny that we have in common. The only way out of it, like the only way out of any of the existential problems we’ve faced is to behave, at least for a little while, like we care that we all get through this. And that this place is intact on the other side. Which means if our leadership simply doesn’t know how to talk to one America, then we need new leadership.
There’s 20 days until the 2020 election. And normally the sort of platitudes like “we need a unifier” get eye rolls from the clear eyed adults who write about politics that I try to count myself a part of. But this time, things are pretty simple. We’ve got a huge problem. It’s the sort of problem that makes for a single issue election. It’s a virus that is killing a thousand Americans a day. And we’re adrift with no unified approach to a way out. We can’t lock ourselves down forever. And when if we pretend it doesn’t exist, the virus does things like cripple the White House and get the President medevac’d out to Walter Reed.
This thing isn’t going to solve itself. And it’s not going to solve itself in pockets. We have each other in common. And we’ve got the virus in common. So who will lead the response?
Right now, the approach from the current administration appears to be to tell us to get used to it. And maybe, since they’ve all caught it and by virtue of having world class medical care and a helicopter and a personal FDA override for experimental drugs, that’s a reasonably easy thing to say. But for the rest of us, who wish our government would find a way to help us feel more confident that they’ve done the work to help us open up safely but at the same time are compassionate enough to provide the safety net to sustain us in the meantime, that’s a tough pill to swallow.
I don’t want to get used to this. None of us do. We have that in common too.
We’re rarely hit with something this dire at this point in the arc of our civic, democratic obligations. This is crystal clear. And it’s an opportunity we can’t miss.
If ever there were a time to not have a leader crazy tweeting, it’s right now. If ever there were a time pour concrete in the cracks that have divided us for centuries, it’s now. I know it won’t hold forever. But we need it to hold until we get the American engine of prosperity going again.
We can. And we will. And we know what we have to do for step one.