“I’m mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore!” is a rather well known line from movie of many years ago. Today as people and pundits scratch their heads over Bernie’s Burn and Donald’s March Through Democracy the one thing that seems clear is that the US body politic is suffering from an incidence of systemic frustration. This infection of frustration overruns political, geographic and ideological boundaries and has many of us thinking about and doing things that even a few short years ago we would never have contemplated.
It is not unimportant to remember that democracy as a functioning, as opposed to theoretical, form of government is a rather new phenomenon. If, as one geological wag has pointed out, the history of our planet is compressed into one year, walking upright homo sapiens showed up around 11:30 in the morning on December 31st, so democracy would have come along around 11:5999999 PM or a little later that night. The inherent difficulties in making democratic government work have caused many political philosophers to argue that eventually any democratically governed nation would collapse because of its inherent inability to act.
American democracy is not about to collapse of its own weight any time soon, but the epidemic of frustration that has swept the country is in no small part caused by the difficulty any democracy faces in aggregating the will to take action.
Most Americans simply want their government to work and leave them alone. Today we have governments at all levels ostentatiously not working and spending what seems to be a lot of time in our face. Layer on top of this economic and income disparities not seen since the 1880s and 90s and you have a highly combustible mixture that clouds our judgement and soils our political discussion.
The history of this type of systemic frustration in western nation states is strewn with major upheavals. 1776, 1789, 1848, 1917, come to mind. In all these examples there were of course many things going on simultaneously, but a broad current of cultural/political frustration was a major support for ground shifting political action.
It remains a very foggy future as to whether or not our current spate of frustration with our government, our role in the world, and the cultural standards that surround our decisions will result in significant political change. What is clear is that as a nation we are searching for new directions to sooth the irritations so many of us feel walking our current path. This search has so far only succeeded in throwing up mostly political opportunists whose rantings serve no interest other than their own and generate no insight into the new paths we must find to continue the American journey.
This ranting and rage about who we are, where we belong and where we are going is much too important to leave to the screaming self-servers. More of us must step into to the swirl of this debate even as it makes us very uncomfortable. It is almost impossible to overstate how important the discussion and its outcomes are. Uncle Sam Wants You.