Van Jones was able to call the most important result of the 2020 US Presidential election quickly on Tuesday night ─ there will be no moral victory. Those of us gutted by the climate of hatred in America, the increasing use of racial slurs, the normalisation of limitlessly bald-faced lying and distortion will not see a decisive rejection of the direction that America headed in the Trump era. A greater disaster averted is worth savoring… but not the mess we’re still in cannot be ingored. If we are having this much difficulty getting a better person than Trump as our leader, all is not well. I and we are not well, let’s leave them aside for a moment.
Often I am asked to “watch my use of the world we” when I make statements such as in the title, and I accept the spirit of the criticisms — I fall into the trap of using that precious word when really I am talking about my own issues and am trying to be in good company, or am really venting about “the masses” and including myself to be polite. But I also have a hard time not using the word “we” no matter how aware I become of my abuse of it. It is a sturdy word, it has too much truth to be corrupted even by our culture of narcissism (yes, I know you are a recovering narcissist, like me.) Some words can’t be done without, if I can’t find a way to say “we” in a way that has a deep ring of truth, then I might as well just stop hoping for anything other than more of the same.
Holding the word “we” skillfully is hard in contemporary America where we test drive the capitalist future, were far fewer people are from where they live, have jobs their parents understand, or know what they’ll be doing in ten years. But Americans as a whole are looking at the results of a nation built on individuality where it became awkward to see themselves as part of anything larger, and became cynical about whether it was worth the effort. It is not pretty.
There are over 300 million Americans in the world, a scale of society that felt exhilarating when our inertia was headed in a right direction. It can now feel depressing to me when we look at our direction squarely, and a country of “I”s can’t do anything about momentum of that scale. We all can do more. I don’t personally know anybody whose living presence sends into me a startling state of conviction that it is, after all, possible to live without ever adding to hate, or hiding from what so many hate behind a wall of entertainment or theories, or behind the idea that they aren’t part of the problem. These people are out there, I’m sure, and the people I’ve met who are closest to this are also the ones who care least about being lumped in with a sick we.
Most of us, like me, do all of the above sometimes. I especially don’t know anybody who really strikes me as walking into the fires of controversy and hatred with total inner calm and constant ability to see all humans as their siblings. That observation is not inherently a condemnation, it can just be words inspired by the way things are. I won’t indulge in the claim I don’t hate anybody, but I don’t hate anybody for not being enlightened. We don’t have to be very enlightened to fully accept that, like it or not, our fates are locked together, see that nobody is going away without a fight and that, really, its not worth it for any group to crush the other.
We Americans are noted for our love of sports analogies so let me ask you ─ when is the last time you heard a member of a successful team that didn’t speak in terms of a we? Sports teams are not different from other groups in this way, they just provide a rare space where we practice caring about the same thing, and pursuing it together with full vigor. On a good day, the I melts away, the world “we” comes out naturally embracing, and honestly, when teams are well. When egos come out, the team becomes feeble. This kind of we, which is not an ideal but an alive experience of being part of something larger has become more and more foreign among American. I find that what stands in the way of me being part of it is ideas, old feeble small arrogant ideas about the way things are supposed to be the way others are supposed to be, and about how right I am and how ashamed they should be. They are not neither my ideas or our ideas, if by “my” our “yours” we mean the one who is to blame, they are both mine and yours if we mean who is “reponsible” — who is able to respond to this mess.
How do we accept responsibility for things we’d rather not see happen, and thereby contribute to change? Not locating “the problem” in others. This unwillingness to be seen as part of a group that is collectively doing something foolish — to need to identify as other than the fool — is a very core of the people that isn’t a people, and who are therefor damned to their own inertia like creature, call it an Eagle, that has decided to be a collection of inert unrelated atoms and has become unable to flap its wings. The way to make America greater than it ever was is to take time to care about everybody in this country a little bit more.