November 2, 2020

Facing Reality: This Is Who We Are

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The phrase and its variants have become so overused that they idea is beyond cliche at this point: "That's not who we are." Pretty much every elected official or candidate running for elected office on the political left has used it at one point or another. So has almost every liberal person expressing their political views on social media. And if they aren't making this particular claim, they are posing what they almost certainly regard as a rhetorical question: "Is this who we are?" To them, I have one thing to say:

Yes. Yes, this is who we are. Not all of us but a great many of us. More than enough of us to cause concern.
Make no mistake. I'm not happy about it either. I wish this wasn't who we (or at least a disturbingly large number of us) are, but it is. I don't think that denying it is helpful. Instead, I think that facing it head-on and working to change is preferable. It may be who we are, but that doesn't mean it needs to be who we want to be.

I recognize that this may strike many readers as a minor point, but consider the fact that the United States elected Donald Trump to the presidency in 2016. No, he didn't win the popular vote. As anyone who has bothered to look into the matter should be able to tell you, we do not elect our presidents by a popular vote. The fact that he didn't win the popular vote should not bring you any solace. He was elected anyway, and he did plenty of damage as a result. We are the country that elected Trump.

We are also a country that, like every other country on Earth, faced the COVID-19 pandemic. But unlike many other countries, we have done a piss-poor job of it, at least so far. There are many reasons for this, one of whom was mentioned by name in the previous paragraph. Still, we have done such a poor job because many of us preferred to deny reality and stubbornly refused to abide by public health recommendations. As the body count continues to climb, some of us are still insisting that "muh freedoms" include the freedom to infect others. So yes, we are that country too.

Record-setting income inequality? Kids in cages? Denying climate change while buying more F-150s? Whining about Antifa and buying more guns while our friends and neighbors are being murdered by police? That's us. That's all part of who we are.

Standing in front of the mirror and taking a long hard look at ourselves is not always the most pleasant experience, but it beats the alternative of denying who we are or our role in how we got to this point. It doesn't have to be a depressing descent into hopelessness or apathy; it can be the beginning of a real commitment to change. But if it is going to be the latter, then this commitment has to involve ownership of our contributions to the problems. It has to ask us what we personally are willing to change or even give up in order to become part of the solution. None of our faults emerged in a vacuum. Like it or not, we are part of "the system" or "the culture" in which all of this is happening.

Yes, we can vote. We can and we should vote. But we are going to need to do a hell of a lot more than that on a daily basis to turn things around. We are going to need to learn how to be more reasonable, and we are going to have to start treating others better than we have. Instead of continuing to contribute to the polarized and tribalistic atmosphere that makes solving big problems next to impossible, we are going to have to get over ourselves and do better. That's how we demonstrate that this isn't who we are.

H/T to Stephanie at Me In Pieces for inspiring this post.