Tag Archive: politics


Animals in Cheap Suits

That’s what humans are. Only a thinly woven layer of civilization covers millions of years of selfish animal urges. We wear that civilization like an ill-fitting rental tux, our primitive reptile brains always lurking and ready to burst out. Werewolves, Jekyll and Hyde, Bruce Banner and the Hulk—through such stories we recognize this on some level, but we are still loathe to admit it openly.

Why? people ask at every new atrocity, like this morning’s shooting in Florida. The answer is simple: because that’s what humans do. That’s bleak and pessimistic, some would say. Pragmatic and realistic, I would reply. But to acknowledge our darker selves is not to deny our better angels. Volunteers lined up to donate blood in the wake of the shooting, so many that some had to be turned away.

“You are at your very best when things are worst,” the visiting extraterrestrial of Starman says of humans. It’s a moving line in an Oscar-nominated performance by Jeff Bridges, but the sad truth underlying it is that those worst things have often come from our hands to begin with, as happened at closing time in Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. The Starman could have said, “Some of you are at your best when others are at their worst.”

As eager as we are, through our tribal nature, to delineate those not of our tribe, those who are somehow other and therefore not deserving of our mercy or compassion, the surreal juxtaposition is that throughout the whole of human history and back into our hazy prehistoric past, there has been one human characteristic that crosses all boundaries of race and culture: our capacity for committing violence upon one another for all reasons great and small, from the significant to the nonexistent.

Will we ever rise above this? If a Starman visited us, but did not take human form, would we look out across the sea of human faces around the globe and finally see them all as if simply looking in a mirror? Would we then rise above the tribalism among ourselves—only to unleash it on those extraterrestrials so much more other than our fellow humans have ever been?

How many more millennia of civilization do we need to accumulate until our beasts within are as dead and buried as fossils, to be studied as inanimate relics instead of bloody reality? Or will we continue to stoke those inner flames of hate for all time, always finding some other rationalization, some new justification, to do to others what we would not want done to ourselves?

On days like today, it’s hard to find good answers.

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Labels can be helpful if you’re shopping for clothing or food. If food companies are made to disclose the irradiated baby seal hearts they’re using as sausage filler on the label, that’s quite helpful for the irradiated baby seal heart intolerant. But political labels…pshaw. Yes, I said “pshaw,” and I don’t regret it. I’m tired of them and what they stand for.

I admittedly fall on the left side of the spectrum. I usually call myself a liberal. Some say “leftist.” Some say “lefty,” using the diminutive form with a sneer, as if you really make a cogent political point by adding that long-e sound, when what you really do is make yourself look like a puffed-up name-caller.

The problem with political labels—and what are the parties but the biggest brand-name labels?—is they elevate ideology above thought. Voters reflexively disparage their opposing labels, and politicians do stupid things to maintain their own labels. It’s part of the overall dumbing down of American politics. That said, I’m going to do some of my own dumbing down to make my point.

The Republicans lean so far to the right that if you went into a GOP convention and shouted “Free government cheese!” most of them would smash their foreheads on the right side of the door frames trying to flee the nanny state. And most of them would have stuffed their pockets with cheese.

The Democrats have moved so far over to compromise that most of them seem like also-ran Republicans. They still trumpet a few key planks from the platform so that you know they’re Democrats, but the notes they blow are shrill and random. They’re just all over the place, like a roomful of frightened cats with a lot of Hollywood friends.

The Libertarians stand smugly aside because they have actually convinced themselves that simply because they are not the other two parties that it means their self-serving nonsense is better than all the other self-serving nonsense. It’s like whooping cough congratulating itself for not being small pox or diphtheria.

There are other parties, but they tend toward the single issue. Like the Jeans That Fit Party, whose platform consists of demanding jeans that fit both a tubby midsection and stubby legs. I’m not a card-carrying member, but I did hand out flyers for them once.

I’m increasingly convinced our government would do better if it were selected from a playground. Take a group of kids playing well together and put them in office. That sense of fair play, kindness, and community would serve us well. We’d probably play nicer with the rest of the world, and we’d also get longer recesses and free pudding. That’s a win-win scenario.

So eff politics by label and catchphrase. I want to start the Nuanced Party. We’ll never win an election because our policy answers will be too long for sound bites. I’m going to launch the party by leading a march on Washington where we carry blank signs so that people have to really think about what should be on them.

But now I gotta go. I need to label my comic book storage boxes.

I fully admit that raising the taxes of the rich will not singlehandedly cure our budget woes. Now I expect in return that conservatives will fully admit that cutting the taxes of the rich will not inherently help our budget woes.  I’ll wait. Still waiting. Man, it’s quiet. 

I’ve encountered conservatives ridiculing liberals as ignorant for thinking raising taxes on the rich will help at all. Then those same conservatives just turn around and recite their own ideological mantra about cutting taxes, because that works “every time” they say.

Really? Every time? Under every circumstance? Always? Maybe on the planet Unicornia where money is magic jelly beans. Sure, under the right circumstances, cutting taxes will lead to investment and jobs, and that growth creates new revenue streams that not only cover the initial tax break but exceed it. Cutting taxes can increase tax revenue. In theory.

But let’s look at the real world, the one that exists outside the ghost of Ronald Reagan: a world where U.S. corporations out-source their production to foreign countries with cheap labor while stashing piles of cash in offshore accounts beyond U.S. tax laws. How many well-paying jobs in our own country are going to be created by further cutting taxes on the rich? How much of that tax-cut money will actually stay in the U.S.?

I don’t know. And neither do the people who are blindly reciting the “cut taxes on the rich” trope. Don’t try to act like financial wizards when you’re just saying the same thing you always say. Our troubles are complex, and parroting one-size-fits-all ideology is not what we need to solve them. It was letting the rich do whatever they wanted to try to get even richer that drove our car off the cliff in the first place. 

We need considered, nuanced responses to our problems. Ideas, not ideologies. Problem is the entire political process is so compromised by money that I don’t know who could come up with sensible answers, much less how they could then actually put a plan in motion.