American Rhymes

Gus Chinn/Courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection
Washington Post

“When they crowded around my table and started demanding that I raise my fist, it was their insistence that I participate in something that I did not understand that led me to withhold my hand.”  -Lauren Victor, diner and reluctant fist-raiser.

Top photo:  Sit-in at the lunch counter of the Cherrydale Drugstore, Arlington, Virginia, 1960.

Apart from the historical irony, I can’t help wondering which of these tableaus is worse.   That I should be asking this question in 2020 says a lot about how far we have strayed from e Pluribus Unum and where we are inevitably headed.

If one can only be either fully woke or stand accused of being a white supremacist then our public space has become awfully small in a very short window of time. Most of us choose the path of least resistance, which precludes sitting alone on principle.  The intimidators are banking on this.

E Pluribus Valley


2020: Rushing headlong now are we toward a conclusion half of us will dread.  A snap trap four years in the making.   There can be no happy ending, though there may be a divorce.   Too many of us have made friendships contingent upon the outcome.  We tolerate each other just so long as we consider the current ugliness to be transitory.  November will correct/affirm the wisdom/insanity of our neighbors.  I knew it all along! They really are that bad/sensible. That settles it. Let the celebration/vilification begin.

I suspect the underlying facts will prove secondary.  Dow 30,000, full employment, USMCA, handshakes at the DMZ, the Supreme Court, the public option, Iran, a looming recession, all background noise.

This is about who we are.  You can believe in the nation-state or you can believe in a borderless world.   Either the people are sovereign or corporations are.   Either we are sovereign or the media is. Either your vote counts or it is nullified by the administrative state.

America is closely divided, horrifyingly so, on matters only a short time ago not under question.

We’ve reached a point in Los Angeles where we are no longer telling the truth about ourselves to ourselves, so we unfriend our neighbors instead.  We threaten to turn each other into memes.

Politics until recently was played between the 40-yard lines.  Claims of catastrophe if the other side prevailed were generally bullshit.  Beneath the hyperbole on cable news, an undertow of bipartisan consensus held: on Wall Street rescue packages, trade with China, techno-utopianism,  deficit spending, the forever war in Afghanistan.  Not this time.  The competing claims are too irreconcilable.

So how to share space with each other after the shock of discovery?   We can start by practicing good manners now. That begins with listening well.