My “day job” (now there’s a laugh!) is that I’m a criminal defense attorney. This morning while in court, I received a phone call from the family of one of my clients, who was supposed to be there with me in court. He wasn’t coming.
Now I’ve represented this kid off and on for some time now. I know that he does not like to be in custody. Hates it.
All he had to do today was show up and likely as not that would have been the end of it. No custody.
But he didn’t show up.
When I told the family that his not showing up would result in the issuance of a warrant, they said they knew, he knew and “it’s on him.” They tried to convince him. Even chased him around town trying to “catch him and bring him in.”
Did I mention that he hates to be in custody? Did I mention that if he had only shown up, things would likely have been over? Did I mention that a warrant would issue for his arrest?
David Brooks, a New York Times writer, would say that my client is a typical modern American.
In today’s Fresno Bee Brooks notes that
In times of crisis, you get a public reaction that is incoherence on stilts.
After walking through America’s allegedly split personality which demands both that the government stay out of the business of running businesses and that it “take control,” Brooks says
At some point somebody’s going to have to reach a national consensus on the role of government.
The governmental problem has a simpler explanation than that America has a split personality. The explanation is not a split personality, but a split electorate. And politicians so fearful about upsetting the electorate that they no longer worry about actually doing their jobs.
In the old days of representative democracy, elected officials were counted on to study a situation — to learn what, if any, role government should play with respect to crime, business enterprises, the environment, etc. — and make a decision based upon sound information and reasoned compromise amongst conflicting forces rather than emotion and the allegedly shifting sands of public opinion.
Today, the concern is to keep one’s position — although I’m not entirely sure what the real benefit of the position is, if you can’t do your job. One of the worst jobs I ever had paid me a bunch of money, but I was miserable because I was micro-managed. In these days of a more “pure” democracy, with its referenda, polls and huge amounts of corporate money — now unlimited thanks to the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in the appropriately-misnamed Citizens United case — our politicians are subject to the same micro-management that drove me nuts. But, if anything, they seem to revel in it.
It keeps them from having to take responsibility for their decisions; they’re just reacting to their “constituencies,” by which I think they often mean they’re remaining true to their pacts with their “PACs.”
At any rate, compromise is a dirty word these days. Somehow, anyone who compromises is a sell-out. A traitor. After all, PACs are funded to achieve specific goals; they exist for one purpose and one alone. If they can’t have what they want, then screw everyone, baby. We’re going for this! FTW!
FTW. It’s an interesting acronym, with an interesting history. In 2010, the most common use of the term is to rally the troops. For those appalled at Sarah Palin’s “don’t retreat, reload!,” it is a kinder, gentler rallying cry. The acronym originally was used for a similar purpose, but the meaning then was “Fuck the world!”
And that is America’s larger problem. For the majority of us — a much larger majority than can agree on anything else in America — “for the win” has not lost touch with its roots. It’s all for one and “all or nothing.” We’re going for the win and — fuck the world! — we will settle for nothing less.
Unfortunately, what I’m saying is that Brooks has it wrong. We apparently have reached a national consensus on the role of government. It’s just the wrong one; one that is ultimately destructive rather than constructive. With Americans being split very nearly down the middle on most issues — even the majority of United States Supreme Court decisions carry by a bare 5-4 majority these days — and unwilling to compromise, we can’t fund our social programs; we can’t build roads; we can’t agree on anything. “Majority” itself these days simply means “one more than the other side gots.”
And my client, whose story opened this post, is probably the one.
Thus it is that there is one thing we seem to do quite well: rally the troops, FTW. The problem is, when we’re constantly at war, with no ability to compromise, nobody really wins.