Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 7, 2021
There is plenty on the public agenda to make most of us squirm about the direction for American values. Still, we look for the occasional sign of hope.
Our public combination of corporate greediness, selfish stubbornness and resort to threats towards our democratic freedoms are mixing with political gridlock, environmental deterioration, continuing pandemic concerns and a dwindling of trust in institutions, business and in one another. It all feels destabilizing and fosters an inability to plan for big things, and forces us to retreat to our personal tribe to hide from the noise.
The news has turned relentless with both natural and man-made disaster, from serious oil spills off California and worsening storms, to those of our own making, with abortion rights, voter restrictions, and the everyday threat of fistfights at the local school or bar over a request to wear a mask — all out of perceived fear of a non-existent “replacement theory” to undercut white privilege. It has been an assault on Trust.
Even getting a straight answer to something as simple as a medical appointment is something that can take follow-up calls, and there is much more attention to getting the required electronic form done that to getting it entered correctly.
We have sudden international air clashes over Taiwan for no discernible immediate reason, and unheeded backups at our ports. We’re firing medical staffers for avoiding vaccines that they administer to others. We need to investigate male soccer coaches for forcing unwanted sexual advances towards professional women athletes, and throughout it all, we have conservative politicians yelling more about “socialism” than about poverty and inequality.
It’s not pretty, and it is exhausting.
So, we should celebrate more those moments where things go right, or where people show some interest in pursuing what’s real from what is only fearfully imagined.
That is a lot easier to find in the welcome words of family and friends than in public life, but there is a certain joy in seeing performing arts arising anew, or the fervor that people can bring to sporting events, or the efforts in one community or another to reach out to offer help to those who need it, including newly arriving refugees.
It need not be happy news, just examples that show that we do rely on people doing excellent work at whatever they do, from Olympic athletes to activists.
This week, it was both comforting, if appalling, to see the work of 600 international journalists working cooperatively to explore a huge trove of private financial records
that were obtained by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). Exploration of more than 12 million records were mined for information that show that political and wealthy around the world are involved with questionable hypocrisy, including 14 government leaders who are feathering their personal wealth even as their people suffer.
It wasn’t the news itself, it was a triumph for the hard slog of journalism that I took from the work, the exploration of data and evidence to compare what leaders say with what they do.
It may not alter your life or mine to know that King Abdullah II of Jordan has socked more than $100 million away in offshore luxury homes or that leaders of the Czech Republic, Kenya, Ecuador or a woman connected with Russian President Vladimir Putin all are enjoying luxurious lives while their people struggle. But it is heartening to see that these journalists care. Maybe we should be examining just why South Dakota now rivals the Caymans as a place for banking secrecy, based on these documents, for example.
It has felt equally gratifying to see efforts in Washington to get by gridlock over the big spending ideas, by moving the inane and useless debate over top-line numbers for Joe Biden’s proposed social service and infrastructure spending programs to discussions about actual programs.
Whatever the amount of spending agreed to by Democrats alone — Republicans have simply opted out of governing during an administration they do not control — the renewed hope of intraparty clashes seems now focused on figuring things out rather than on standing pat on steadfast principles offered in the abstract.
There has been a flood of vastly different headlines with many dangling political tension to describe the need to turn from needed passage of difficult legislation to needed time to discuss them more fully. That, of course, is at the heart of compromise intended to address real problems rather than to merely float slogans that we will hear endlessly during political campaigns.
Again, while I’m sure that all would prefer that there was a Democratic consensus to act on a bill through such a split Congress, it was a welcoming sign to see the beginnings of a coming-together on important legislation. It would be good to see the same on bills addressing voting rights and policing.
On the unrelated issue of raising the debt level — which both addresses past spending and does not cost anything — it is gratifying to see Joe Biden give at least a nod towards the possibility of eliminating or adjusting the Senate filibuster rules, and for Minority Leader Mitch McConnell do wink or blink or whatever towards temporarily delaying public stupidity over not paying our past bills.
We should celebrate signs of institutional trust where we can find them.