Sunday, August 23, 2020

Watering Hole

The virus should have united Americans against a common threat. With different leadership, it might have.
George Packer "We Are Living in a Failed State"

The subtitle to Mr. Packer's article is: "The coronavirus didn’t break America. It revealed what was already broken." This prompted me to ask a couple of questions:

One: When was it not broken?

Two: What do you mean, "revealed?"

I don't think that I've ever considered the United States to have a unified population at any point since I gained a reasonably adult understanding of the concept. I mean, there are people who still want to relitigate the Civil War, and it not as if there hasn't been anything else for large segments of the public to disagree with each other about since then.

Bland counterfactuals such as the idea that a different President may have been able to unify the country to address the SARS-2 coronavirus are easy to dream up. Actually understanding who this mystery person who should be in the White House might be is a completely different matter. Were Hillary Clinton the current President of the United States, one might reasonably expect that she would have handled the situation differently, and more competently. But the idea that she could have brought Red and Blue America together in a shared enterprise free of name-calling and vitriol strikes me as a pipe dream. Or it would, anyway. I'm not sure I can think of anything strong enough to cause hallucinations that severe that would actually fit into a pipe at the dose needed.

I've never been a fan of what strikes me as a Cult of Leadership, mainly because there seems to be an idea that once The Right Leadership is in place, that everyone else no longer matters. The motivations, perceptions and grievances of every other member of whatever organization, institution or jurisdiction being in question simply evaporate. But I've never seen it work that way.

Donald Trump was never going to be a unity President. The very people who put him into office, the sixty-three million (give or take) voters who marked "Donald J Trump" on their ballots in November 2016, for the most part, weren't interested in unity. It's hard to make the case that President Trump ran on a platform of bridging the rift between the partisan camps, only to walk away from that the day after his inauguration.

The idea that the public is composed mainly of followers who will blindly do whatever the right leader tells them to strikes me mainly as a means of shifting the blame. If the population of the United States wanted unity badly enough to work for it, I suspect that we'd be seeing much more active outreach efforts, and candidates for any number of public office who were running on their unity credentials. But overall, unity simply isn't important. There aren't enough people who see their interests advanced by national cohesion to pay the price that it will demand.

And yes, one could make the point that it's the role of a leader to make that case and show people the way. But is that leading the horse to water? Or is it, as I suspect, making it drink?

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