2017

How do we save us from ourselves?

There are times I miss the classroom. Last week was one. The Great American Eclipse taking place in the middle of a school day was a boon for Colorado teachers. I can imagine the excitement on their students’ faces, especially on the I’m-cool, cynical ones who panned the event and taunted fellow students as geeks until they donned geek glasses and beheld something vastly greater than they.

The GAE is old news. It’s been a week plus, an eternity in our 24/7 news stream. Still, the visual imagery of the sun’s corona emblazoned against the sky behind the silhouetted moon—light and shadow—is seared into the memory of observers, especially the young. It reminded me of Ellie Arroway in Carl Sagan’s “Contact” who tells how she “got hooked” as a little girl when her dad bought her a telescope. Here’s hoping the GAE serves to hook many youngsters, especially girls.

The myriad of factors contributing to and coalescing around the GAE’s time and place are a shade less than infinite. From the Big Bang to the formation of the sun, then the earth and moon. The pulls between centrifugal force and gravity. The size and distance of the moon relative to the earth and the sun. Countless more factors along with the particulars of one’s opportunity to witness. Neither miracle nor coincidence, but a cosmic synchronicity of potentials leading to the one outcome.

As peak time neared, shadows lessened and anticipation pulsed. Traffic slowed to a halt. And then it happened, and we were one sharing a not-so-rare event that millions have been in awe of since the Cognitive Revolution, when our brains evolved to allow us to appreciate mystery. For those privileged to witness the eclipse, it was a rare event, not in nature but within our nature. In the brevity of that moment, we cared not about another’s politics, spiritual/religious belief, sexual orientation, or shoe size; we were agog and lost in that communal agogness.

As much as we were awed, we were comforted knowing it was a passing event, for our existence depends upon the sun’s energy. Such is life and such it is with the state of our nation. The sun’s corona gleaming behind the dark spot can serve as a metaphor for our constitutional republic and the forces besetting it. Donald Trump’s words, actions, attitudes, and values certainly are provoking honest discussions about issues old and new:

  • Reprehensible aspects of our past—slavery, Jim Crow, Native American pogroms, immigrant exploitation—correlated with constitutional issues that have arisen due to the Supreme Court’s 2008 landmark Second Amendment ruling. Can free speech exist in the face of an assault weapon?
  • The major parties in flux. Democrats seeking an identity and purpose, and a schizo
  • Republican Party: principled Reagan Republi-cans or race-baiting Trump Republi-klans?
  • Conservative-Progressive Divide: Has traditional Burke-Buckley conservatism given up its ghost? Will a pragmatic or an ideologically pure left be countering a fascist right? Is that dichotomy still relevant?
  • Facebook and social media: insidious evil?
  • Our pluralistic, liberal democracy, 241 years and counting. But for how much longer? Will it repeal itself and become an illiberal democracy? Which will rule: long-held, cherished principals of freedom, justice, and equality or skin color?

The call for “a more perfect union” in the Preamble implies we are by nature an imperfect one. We’re an imperfect people. On that, there’s no such thing as American Exceptionalism.

Trump claims his goal is to “make America great again.” In his self-absorbed ignorance, he fails to understand America has been great despite moral transgressions. He’s incapable of fathoming the forces he’s unleashed as we rip the scabs from festering wounds of the deplorable aspects of our past and engage, rather ineptly thus far, in that long-overdue conversation we’ve avoided like a dysfunctional family projecting a semblance of normality.

I ended my column a few weeks ago with a question initially posed by the Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker: Who can save us from ourselves? That’s our Great American Challenge.

In future editions, I’ll be exploring these seminal issues.

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