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Column

America always has been an active illusion

Paul Wheeler
Paul Wheeler

Over the past 50 years, our nation has been slowly, methodically tearing itself apart. If one were able to transgress both time and space and pinpoint the precise moment it began, perhaps we’d be able to resolve it. That isn’t possible.

To be honest, the modern human condition always has been a bit of a mystery to me. I’ve always done better in the quiet woods rather than listening, or attempting to listen, to other people. I’ve done my best, but that’s not saying much.

I suspect the Founders were equally puzzled by the contents and confusions of the human heart. The Constitution they created was their grand attempt to balance those unknown forces – a way to protect each man from the domination of another (quite broad-minded for a bunch of slave owners).

But like the fairies of Peter Pan, you had to believe in it. It needed to be ground you could walk on. It needed to be something you could cradle in your heart, and in your hand, and in your mind. It was, in many ways, an act of faith. But holding faith in one another is a tricky thing.

The late children’s TV host Fred Rogers once said, “There’s something unique about being a member of a family that really needs you in order to function well. One of the deepest longings a person can have is to feel needed and essential.”

Sadly, our national family has spent unspeakable hours in pursuit of the very opposite. Aided by the double-edged sword of social media, we’ve done all in our power to make those with whom we disagree feel unneeded and nonessential. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. Politicians have done it. Business leaders have done it. Journalists have done it. Rich or poor, deaf or blind, we’ve all done it, some to advance their search for feeble power, but most in that self-serving realm we call “righteous indignation.” The same illusionary place where nightmares are born.

On Feb. 5, the United States Senate overturned that same Constitutional illusion of reason and justice, and in so doing, overtly changed the arc of our national story. Against all corroborated fact and sober evidence, the Senate decided there are, in fact, men who do rise above the law. Decided there are hidden (and not-so-hidden) forces that do quell our ability to reason, and to seek honest truth. As a consequence, we’ve omitted justice and openly implanted corruption as a fundamental force in our democracy.

The effect? It’s impossible to measure.

But maybe it’s for the best. I mean, maybe we’ve never really believed in anything. Maybe we have, like so many other failed democracies, learned how to live on bread alone. It’s difficult to know. Either way, we’ve chosen to abandon our fundamental capacity for truth, and the belief in our institutions to represent us fairly. How did that happen? It’s a valuable question. I’m sure Von Hindenburg asked the very same thing. It’s a question we’ll have to wrestle with for a very long time.

But make no mistake, when “illusions” such as truth and justice have gone, they’re replaced by one of two things – cruelty or indifference. Perhaps the same cruelty and indifference we’ve been inflicting on one another for far too long. In the coming days, there will be those who will say we need to do better. I can only say, we must.

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