Thursday, February 18, 2016
Fallows--and a whole different view
Seriously, the whole thing looks like Fight Club, except, terrifyingly, it's actually deadly serious. If you watched anything at all of the last Republican debate, what you saw was Men Behaving Badly (remember that one?) as a reality show featuring presidential candidates in line to fill the most important office in the entire world. The Three Stooges used to hammer each other just as unmercifully, but Larry, Moe, and Curly Joe didn't want to be President. Plus, they were a scream.
The Democrats lack the Trump card, so eye-gouging doesn't reach his level of bullying absurdity; but their most recent duets haven't created much harmony either. Right now all the surviving candidates are tearing each other up, meaning stages are bloodied wherever the campaigns stop. Most of us claim not to like negative ads and despise pugilist politics, but campaign insiders know very well that's just another deception of human nature. It's just depressing, isn't it?
Atlantic's James Fallows spent three years literally flying over and into the U.S. or A., in order to create what amounts to his own State of the Union. What he discovered is something you won't believe--that life here isn't as poisoned as you might hear from politicians. Pessimism may feel lethal, but it isn't universal. From east to west and north to south, Fallows claims really good things are happening. In a fascinating piece in Atlantic's latest issue, he makes the outlandish claims that what's inside this country is dynamic and progressive.
And hopeful. "Many people are discouraged by what they hear and read about America," he says, "but the closer they are to the action at home, the better they like what they see."
He begins in San Bernadino, the California burb where just a few months ago a married couple, with a baby, went on a suicide mission of terror, killing 14 and wounding 22. San Bernadino has not been booming for years and appears to suffer from the species of blight that affects many urban areas.
But when Fallows looked closer, he found all kinds of individuals and groups--politically conservative and politically liberal--whose elbow grease is making the town blessedly livable again. San Bernadino is reinventing itself, rebuilding, revitalizing. Among the movers and shakers in the shadiest regions of this country, good things are abounding, good things few of us talk about.
Some explain the deep fizzures in this society on the basis of this country's "browning," the fact that white folks will soon be in the minority. Among white people, fears of that shifting portrait may well be far more intense than any of them would like to admit.
But Fallows uses Holland, Michigan, as a case in point to argue that "The Assimilation Engine Moves Ever Forward." Brian Davis, the superintendent of Holland Public Schools, told Fallows that "We've got more Garcias than Vans.. . .We're what the future of public education looks like,"
Or, Fallows says, take Sioux Falls, where minority cultures from Somalia, Sudan, Nepal, and Burma--and many others--are becoming parts of a new community. "The civic and business leaders of Sioux Falls we spoke with," Fallows says, "most of them white, seemed proud rather than beleaguered about their city's new role as a melting pot."
I'm sure there are those in Sioux County, Iowa, who would be happy to say--and likely do, to those like-minded--that they wish all of the new ethnics would go back where they came from. But most all of us know that if they did, the economy would flatten and splatten. Our newest residents work just as hard as Calvinists at jobs that make good Calvinists turn their heads.
And then there's art, he says. "I am a philistine, who has not really cared about the state of the arts." But "perhaps the topic on which I've most changed my mind. . .concerns the civic importance of local arts, and the energy being devoted to them across the country."
Ever since we've moved here, I've served on an incredibly active local Arts Board who creates arts programming in myriad forms that bless the community. Anyone who says that life in the Orange City area wasn't made to smile by overflow crowds for The Nutcracker last Christmas--local kids performing--has his head buried in good black dirt that's going to waste. Arts may not save us, but beauty can do much more than most of us imagine, and the formerly philistine Fallows says one of the earmarks of communities that prosper in this land is a determined commitment to the arts.
What all of this doesn't argue, he says, is the Republican premise that the federal government is simply a scourge and a boondoggle whose only real job is to provide for the nation's defense. Everywhere they went, he says, "we saw the imprint of the great national efforts of the past" because national government has been and still can be a great blessing, in fact must be a great blessing. Even though "most parts of the American 'system' work better than their counterparts in the rest of the world, our national politics works worse."
That needs to change, he says. Witness this campaign.
I live in Iowa, where the smoke of national politics is just now disappearing, the parade of candidates long ago departed. But when you get enough of politics this year--too much rancor and mud, too much fear-mongering, too much woe and woe and woe, too much bullying--you might want to read "Can America Put Itself Back Together?" in the March Issue of The Atlantic.
Or you can read it here. It's going to cost you!--not money, but time. But Lord knows it beats sound bites from the latest Three Stooges debate. Honestly, it's good for the mind, the heart, and the soul.
Posted by J. C. Schaap at 6:58 AM