Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Time for a divorce

Sarah Robinson, one of my favorite political commentators, has written an article for Alternet:

Conservative Bullying Has Made America Into a Broken, Dysfunctional Family: But There Are Ways to Regain Our Well-Being

An abusive, out-of-control, rageaholic GOP broke our country by shattering our trust in democracy and in ourselves.


A marriage counselor friend once told me that he almost always knows by the end of the very first session whether he's being hired to guide a damaged couple back to health, or to help them work toward a divorce -- even when the couple doesn't know the answer to this question themselves.


On the other hand, the tell-tale sign of a zombie marriage -- one that's already dead, even if the parties involved haven't yet confronted that fact -- is that one or both partners have already given up and checked out. The trust is broken, the dream shattered, the damage just too much to ever repair. Things have been said and done that can't ever be unsaid or undone. There's so much bad history that there's no way a mere human heart can ever forgive it all. It's so far gone that pain and rage are all that remain -- and the longer they stay together, the more brutal it's likely to get.

If, as George Lakoff says, we tend to think of the nation as a family, then my friend's approach for identifying salvageable marriages may apply just as well to salvaging our democracy.

I totally agree with her friend's description of a zombie marriage. I don't know about you, but I don't trust the bullying, threatening, Tea Party, "Christian" GOP any longer. And that applies to the individual members as well as the collective groups.

This is a scary thought, because right now, America is riven by two very different visions of the future, held by two partners who obviously have radically different visions about where we should be going.

On one hand, you've got most of the country -- center-right, center, center-left, and progressive -- which sees us as a family in trouble, but which also believes that if we return to our bedrock agreements, focus on solving our shared problems and fall back on our basic goodwill and common sense, we should be able to sort things out. This is the two-thirds of America that poll after poll shows is ready to move forward on issues like economic transformation, inequality, corruption and corporate overreach, climate change and energy policy, and remaking our infrastructure. There's a sense that, even though the challenges are big, we can solve them if we can come together, treat each other decently, reaffirm our commitment to the future, and force the democratic process to work again.

On the other hand, there's another group that has entirely checked out on us, and turned ugly and abusive. The conservative minority is acting like Lakoff's canonical Strict Father scorned: When the family rejects his leadership and his attempts at authoritarian contol, he sinks into a punitive, bullying rage, lashing out at the rest of us for what he's come to believe is irredeemable broken faith because we won't let him be the boss. By his behavior, he is telling us in no uncertain terms that he wants a scorched-earth divorce -- the kind that leaves the rest of us broke, ruined, miserable, and utterly at his mercy. He has gone so far as to hire batteries of lawyers and lobbyists to accomplish this, and is taking a bully's evident glee in his success.

That's a remarkably good description right there. That is exactly what the current political climate feels like.

This kind of dogged will to destroy is inherently pathological, whether it's happening within a marriage or a nation. There's no way it can ever be construed as healthy. My friend the marriage counselor would have looked at this situation -- one spouse overwhelmed by irrational, abusive, controlling rage and constantly imputing unspeakable motives to the other -- and written the marriage off.


But we can't do that. We are still, for better or for worse, the biggest, richest family on the planet.


On one hand, there's no way for them to leave, because there's nowhere for them to go, and no legal divorce is possible.

Yes there is.

On the other, letting them destroy the great house of America, built through generations and centuries to its present stature, is simply not an option.

I'll be disagreeing with this in a moment.

So what do we do? If these people really don't want to be in the marriage -- if they are, in fact, trying to destroy it by any means possible -- how on earth can we continue to function as a family?

We can't. As millions of battered wives and abused families will tell you, we can't.


At this point in the article she goes into suggestions.

We need to close ranks around them, building alliances and strategies that will enable us to protect ourselves and each other from their depredations.

I'm picturing a room with a screaming bully, and the victims huddled in the corners, shielding each others faces with their combined backs.

The most important and critical thing we need to do is to restore trust; trust in each other, and in the idea of ourselves as a good and worthy family.

And in the huddle they're whispering to each other that they're good people. Even though the big man in the room is screaming about how their losers and sluts and cowards and liars, they whisper to each other that they really are good.

We can refuse to buy into divide-and-conquer strategies, realizing that in this situation, the only distinction that matters at all is the one between those who are rooting for this country to succeed, and those who are out to destroy it.

And they are not. The big man ranting and raving is the problem, not the group huddled in the corner.

We can decide that we're going to stay sane in the face of the craziness -- and stand with anybody, regardless of their politics, who is also acting in good faith to stand against the bullies.

That involves standing against them, not huddling in the corner.

We can work to create a consensus vision of the next America we want to become, and form trusting relationships with others to make that happen.

More whispering, this time daydreams of what life would be like if Daddy would just die already...

We can refuse to reward bullying behavior with success. (Or, for that matter, with any more attention than it takes to get the bullies out of the room.)

Back to the whole standing vs. huddling

We can stand up before each other and the world and say: "Those people do not speak for us, and their squalid, angry vision is not our vision. We are a better nation than that."

And this person I keep going home with and trying to reason with is not really my husband.

And we can, simply, continue to come together and govern. Because the specter of citizens civilly and peacefully exercising power is, above everything else, the one thing they fear the most, the biggest threat to the radical anti-democracy agenda.

Yes, we can keep running the house and succeeding in school and pretending there is no abuse going on at all.

You know, this strategy doesn't work in abusive families. I don't know why she thinks any of this will work here.


Back to where she says there's no where to go, no legal divorce, and we cannot destroy America.

One of my favorite quotes is from George William Curtis

A man's country is not a certain area of land, mountains, rivers, woods, but it is a principle. And patriotism is loyalty to the principle.

If you believe in our core values, the right to life, liberty, justice, equality, the common good, and popular sovereignty among others then you are an American, no matter where you plant your feet. Americans believe everyone deserves those rights and will fight for everyone to get them and keep them. That is what makes us who we are.

Splitting up this country will not change that.
Moving to another country will not change that.

What stops an abusive marriage when all trust is lost is a divorce. Either they split up the house, which in this case would be secession, or the victims run, in this case to the safe shelters of Europe or Canada.

Yes, all of us. All 200 million of us if that's what it takes. Pack up and leave. Granted the ones with the education and ability and money will be the ones going, leaving a "third world" country in their wake, but if that's what the abuser wants...

Or give them the southern states they've always wanted. Same problem, no more well-off, educated "upper middle" class to pay the taxes for them. Just the wealthy and the serfs. But again, if that's what they want...

They can have the land if they want it, but it will be empty of victims to torment, and they will only have themselves to blame.

Because the only way to deal with a abuser is leave him far, far behind you.

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