Government is the source of more problems than I can count. If you want to do something, you almost certainly need a license of some sort. If you live here, they’re going to take your money in the form of taxes. If you want to have a voice anyone in government hears, you need to have a lot more money than either you or I have. Things are set up to benefit the wealthy and oppress the poor. Government is a bureaucracy constructed to ensure nothing ever really gets done without jumping through more hoops than all the animals Barnum and Bailey ever trained. A single mistake sets a person back for months.
California, for example, said they were covering my Medicare until December, even though I moved to Arizona in October. Arizona, therefore, while they were perfectly willing to pick up my Medicare, denied the request in November because California hadn’t sent the form that said they were no longer covering it. This is why Social Security took $510 from my Disability this month to recoup their losses from December, January, and February. Arizona sent the proper form to Social Security. It takes 90 days to process that, so I’ll get $170 a month less on which to live until June or July. I’m not alone in this. I feel sure it happens to millions of others, and all of us search frantically for the means to survive while the bureaucrats process paperwork. I’m never moving again. The only way to get me out of this place is in a body bag.
Any efforts to pass laws that help us take years, and they can be stopped by a single voice, usually one paid for by those who have the money to deny the rest of us the chance to join the pursuit of happiness that is supposed to be one of our inalienable rights. Government is the problem, isn’t it?
Americans, after all, rugged individualists. We hear so often about those who made it all by themselves. They didn’t need government to become successful. They are self-made successes. We should all aspire to such greatness. They did it all alone, didn’t they?
Did they? From where did they get the education they needed if not from our schools? How did they get where they needed to go if not on the roads we built? From where did they get the currency they needed to exchange for the goods and services they used to become successful if not from the government that printed it? Who kept them safe if not our police departments? They almost certainly benefitted at some time from our fire departments, our paramedics, our hospitals, and our concept of freedom that allowed them to live without the fear of winding up disappearing in the middle of the night for speaking out against our government.
All of us are standing on the shoulders of 200,000 years of human development. I didn’t invent paper, nor the printing press, nor the computer on which I’m writing. I didn’t invent the language that allows us to communicate. I’m using the products of human progress. I’m not doing this alone. There are billions of people who came before me to allow me to write this. The government and The People On The Porch provide me the funds I need to exist. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos didn’t do it alone, either. They couldn’t possibly do it alone. They made use of (or, if you’re of my frame of mind, exploited) the benefits of the advancements of our species.
We humans have done extraordinary things. We have increased our life spans dramatically. My mother is 91, and I expect her to live for quite some time to come. It’s not unheard of for people to live for a century because of our advances in medicine.
We’ve also made health care into a logistical nightmare, but now an insurance company can’t deny you coverage because of a “preexisting condition” – a term they invented to avoid insuring diabetics and others that are likely to cost them more. For all the problems inherent in The Affordable Care Act, that’s one part it got right. They can no longer say, “You’ve outrun your coverage; die in peace.” Government allowed medical insurance to exist. That was a problem. Government kept them from denying coverage. That was a small part of the solution. The government is a tide that goes out but comes back in. It moves in waves, and, like the ocean itself, it does as much damage as it does good.
“We have to say what we feel; that government, no matter what its failures of the past, and in times to come, for that matter, government can be a place where people come together, and where no one gets left behind. No one… gets left behind. An instrument of good.”
— Toby Ziegler in “The West Wing: He Shall, From Time to Time” Season 1, Episode 12, by Aaron Sorkin
Our Founding Document, “The Declaration of Independence,” tells us that all men are created equal. That’s an ideal, not a fact. Michael Jordan is a better basketball player than I am. That’s a fact. He was created one way, and I, another. I am a better writer than a child who will never be able to use language. That’s a fact. I was created one way, and he, another.
“But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal—there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein, and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest J.P. court in the land, or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal. I’m no idealist to believe firmly in the integrity of our courts and in the jury system—that is no ideal to me, it is a living, working reality…”
— Atticus Finch, “To Kill A Mockingbird: Chapter 20” by Harper Lee
Will you find corruption in our courts? Of course you will. Only hours after Atticus gave that speech to the jury, the court failed to deliver justice for Tom Robinson.
But this is an example of the idea upon which our country was built. It’s the idea that we all matter. It’s the idea that all voices count, even those who spout ridiculous things. Last year, for example, when I was in Surprise to see my mother, my nephew and I were staying at a hotel. We went downstairs for a drink, and there we met a woman who spent 45 minutes explaining to me that there are Lizard People from another dimension, or reality, or planet (she wasn’t sure which) who are living here now. And I want her to be allowed to vote. Because, as Toby Ziegler told us above… no one… no one is left behind. I don’t have to agree with you to want you to have a say in how this life we share is governed. She may be right. I would be willing to bet everything I will ever earn for the rest of what’s left of my life that she’s not, but I could be wrong. I remind myself of that constantly. I think I’m right, but I could always, always, always be wrong. So could you. So could she.
There are times when all the world’s asleep
The questions run too deep
For such a simple man…
I said, watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical
Liberal, oh fanatical, criminal
Won’t you sign up your name, we’d like to feel you’re acceptable
Respectable, oh presentable, a vegetable
— Supertramp, “The Logical Song” from “Breakfast In America, 1979
Instead of giving in to the cynicism that tells us it’s too late, that the American Oligarchs have already taken over, and that there’s nothing more to do but live in a dystopian nightmare, we can encourage one another to believe in an idea. The Cynics, you see, can be wrong, too. We can believe in the idea of liberty and justice for all. Our flag lies limp on its pole now, hanging its head in shame, but a good wind can come up at any moment to make it fly in all its tri-colored, star-spangled glory again. We can begin by protecting voting rights. We can continue by creating a Health Care System that allows us the medical attention we need without bankrupting us. We can reach for the stars by providing a Universal Basic Income that ensures all of us have enough to survive. We can end poverty. We can reduce the nightmare of income inequality. We can do anything we choose to do if we can be United.
The oligarchs want to pit us against each other. “They’re not from America, and they’re stealing your jobs. They’re the source of the problem. She’s a woman, and instead of staying home and raising children, she’s out in the workplace, making you replaceable, and reducing everyone’s income. She’s the source of the problem. They have different sexual orientations than you do, and they’ve destroyed the moral lives that are the heart of this country. They’re the source of the problem. That guy is a Socialist who wants to give away your hard-earned money to someone else for free. He’s the source of the problem. This guy is a fascist who attacked the country on January 6. He’s the source of the problem. This guy likes the football team you hate. You just KNOW he’s the source of the problem.”
Sorry. I don’t buy that. There is no Them; we are all Us. We’re all the source of the problem. I can, and do, disagree with many people. Even more disagree with me. But I won’t turn that disagreement into hatred. Neither should you. Instead, I want to understand those with whom I disagree, and I hope to make them understand me. I want to find a way to solve the problems. I’m not interested in blame. I’m interested in solutions. Don’t tell me why we can’t unless that’s your preface to the answer I want to hear: how we can.
In 1940, our armed forces weren’t among the twelve most formidable in the world, but obviously we were going to fight a big war. And Roosevelt said the US would produce 50,000 airplanes in the next four years. Everyone thought it was a joke. And it was, cuz it turned out we produced 100,000 planes. Give the air force an armada that would block the sun…
Over the past half century, we’ve split the atom, we’ve spliced the gene, and we’ve roamed Tranquility Base. We’ve reached for the stars, and never have we been closer to having them in our grasp. New science, new technology is making the difference between life and death, and so we need a national commitment equal to this unparalleled moment of possibility…
— Sam Seaborn from The West Wing, “100,000 Airplanes” Season 3, episode 11, by Aaron Sorkin
A President of The United States was once asked to define America. He answered, “One word – one word: Possibilities.”
There’s little we can’t do if we work together. One person can’t defend the country, but millions of soldiers with 100,000 airplanes can. One person can’t cure cancer or diabetes, but thousands of scientists working together and separately can, and I believe, someday, they will. One person can’t reshape our economy to relieve the afflicted. But a government that truly represents the diversity of America can. One person can’t explore strange new worlds, or seek out new life and new civilizations, but together we all can boldly go where no one has gone before.
Let’s recognize, at last, that we have more in common with our bitterest enemy than I have with the dog I love with all my heart. We may have irreconcilably different ideologies, beliefs, agendas, goals, and desires. But all of us have a heart. All of us bleed. All of us pee, and poop, and sleep and wake up. All of us require the sun to keep us alive. All of us rose from the same bit of goo 4.5 billion years ago. Your DNA is nearly identical to mine. You’re sharing a ride with me on this rock tumbling through space. You live, you love, you laugh, you cry. So do I. You’re here for less than two centuries. So am I.
We need to work with the government we have to make it the government it could be. We need it to become that place where we all come together to discuss our problems and find not the Democratic Answer or the Republican Answer, but the Right Answer.
As Russia marches, seemingly inexorably, toward World War III, and the nuclear war that would exterminate all life on Earth, we need now, more than ever, to stop fighting amongst ourselves over differences that are superficial and start finding a way out of the terror that lies ahead. There’s little point in planning for a Utopian future if we’re not going to be around for another year.
But, for today…
I woke up at 3:40 AM, but that’s because I passed out a little before 9. Speedy Shine came outside with me, did his business, and jumped immediately into my lap and fell asleep again. I don’t know why I love that feeling so much. Having him sleeping in my lap makes me feel alive, content, and at peace with the world.
I wish, so much, everyone could feel such peace. I think of it as a simple pleasure. For far too many people, it’s an all but unimaginable luxury.
There is plenty about which to worry. The chance of nuclear war grows greater all the time. This will almost certainly lead to the extinction of the human race. I think that’s a good reason to worry.
On the other hand, I don’t believe there’s much I can do about that. I don’t believe Putin is taking my calls this week. If he were, I don’t think he could possibly care less about my pleas not to continue the mass murder our species has politely named War.
The best I can possibly do is to convince, if I am absurdly successful, 50 people to believe in the possibilities that liberty holds. I might be able to get them to oppose voter suppression laws, or to support a Universal Basic Income. I can’t stop the deaths.
If our time on Earth is approaching its end, I want to find all the happiness I can before I’m gone. Worrying accomplishes nothing of value, and it keeps me from feeling the Joy I want while I can still have it.
It’s not that I don’t care what is happening. It’s that I can’t change it.
If I can’t change it, I won’t worry about it. I will hope for change. I will advocate change. I will support those who try to make the changes in which I believe.
And then, I’m going to smoke a bowl, play some music, and enjoy the feeling of a dog lying in my lap, allowing me to believe he loves me, and knowing that I love him.
I hope you find a similar sort of Peace. I love you.