July 10 2016
Last time I wrote something on an airplane, the “I hope you have a good day” post, you discovered it and, to my surprise, appreciated it. I deliberately didn’t advertise that one because I wasn’t sure how you’d take it. Christine had a very sharp observation that it was less intensely patriotic/pro-military than you or Luigi might expect, but perhaps more so than my immediate peers/friends/allies would want or predict.
I go back to that piece for two reasons: I’m on an airplane again, which brings with it a clearing out and perspective and chunk of time during which I can’t access the internet, and we’ve extended the invitation to Luigi to join our writing project (which I expect will mean I am outnumbered on most everything). A recent conversation I had with him sent me back to the time of his service, to his letters, to my heated conversations with you. He said something to the effect of “I have never been more frustrated with politics than I have been during the past 8 years,” as we talked about the upcoming election, and how Obamacare has affected him and affected Denny’s small business, etc.
This conversation was bewildering to me for a few reasons. I hadn’t heard a first-person story of the negative impact of Obamacare save for, years ago, a restaurant owner I’d worked for complaining because he couldn’t afford to cover his employees. His account was easy for me to laugh off; he is absolutely not a struggling person, in the least, and also an absolute tyrant, but I am certain that his employees were struggling and I am fine, even happy in a smug way, with his profit margin shrinking for the greater good. Luigi is in a different situation, though, and I was surprised at his claims that basically he has no insurance, that his premiums are exponentially greater and his coverage is exponentially worse. Surprised because it’s not what I thought would happen, or what I thought was happening, on some level. But more surprised because i just didn’t believe him, and I realized how strong my faith was in my own political beliefs. That can’t be right, is what I kept thinking, and frankly it’s what I still think. I do believe that his situation has changed but there has to be more to the story than “Obama bad.” More on that soon, or later after some research, or something. It’s not enough to believe on faith that it’s good or that it’s terrible. We can find out, and we should.
First, though: the most frustrated he’s ever been politically is the past 8 years? As opposed to the previous 8? I cannot comprehend this in the least. I have been thinking about it for days and it’s deeply, deeply unsettling, haunting. I’m sure there are reasons in addition to the ACA; I remember once he said “Iraq is basically lost” and I had a similar reaction, total internal disarray and disorganization, and I expect that these two ideas taken together are of real importance to the critiques of Obama coming from the right. And I can do the exercise of empathizing with the experience of, say, a marine who has seen combat and now spends more for insurance and how that could lead to such-and-such a view, but truthfully it baffles me that anyone could look at Bush II as anything but a complete disaster by every conceivable measure. And the legacy of those ideas is still alive and well and perhaps even more virulent and rabid one one hand and absorbed as widely accepted so as to become invisible on the other. Think back to that time, what it was for you in your daily life and ask why it had to be that way, what imperative made it so. How can you even put these two 8-year blocks on either sides of the same scale? In what universe? This is similar to the Clinton/Trump observation we’ve been talking about. There’s a throwing up of one’s hands happening, an antipolitics that suggests it doesn’t matter, that “they’re all crooks,” that you can’t stand to listen to either of them. But you’ll have to live with one of them.
There is so much more for us to talk about after this past week of carnage and staggering lack of empathy in its wake. To pick up on something you said in your last post: I don’t think I am trying to take the world’s burdens on, on my own. But I believe that we must, absolutely must, be on the side of easing those burdens inasmuch as we are able. This project is a small way to do that, I think. To contribute to understanding and positive change and an exchange of ideas between groups of people that do not communicate at all outside of internet comments. There has to be a way to understand each other better and to drag our assumptions out into the light and see if they hold up. I’m not talking about “common ground.” Possible there is none. But at least we can try to get at some kind of ground, some kind of baseline premise or ethos that has led all of us down such radically different paths, and see it clearly.
We could create something out of this, a living document with generous points of entry for anyone, whatever side they’re on. Maybe it can be a book. That this means something at all could be a delusion of grandeur, or a symptom of that neurotic impulse you identify as taking responsibility for what ails the world. At my most ungenerous I think it’s a kind of pseudoactivity meant to justify my life of privilege. Regardless, I feel that this is important work to do, even if it’s just between us. I hope, though, that it ripples out and becomes part of a seismic shift in the ways we talk to each other, if we talk to each other at all.
You can make something out of anything,