As we reach the end of a week of news unlike any I can remember, we feel an ever-present tension knowing the next week, or even hour will likely bring new headlines of this unraveling moment in history.
And yet… life goes on. I turn the television to the familiar comforts of a post-season baseball game, an adult beverage in hand. My wife Jean and I talk about books we are reading and matters of family and friends. Outside our home, I know that there are soccer games and PTA meetings and art shows. There are first dates and long hikes and jigsaw puzzles. The dance floor is crowded. A long conversation takes place over cups of coffee. A moment is remembered in a photo album.
I know there are also the pains of life, the illnesses, the lost jobs, the addictions. There is a child being bullied, a family business closing, a rift between siblings.
All of this, the good and the bad, has always been part of life. And government, in its most idealized form, is supposed to work to make life better, to protect, heal, and provide opportunity. Government is not functioning in that way, at least on the national level, and not by a long shot. And yet for most Americans, life by some standards hasn’t changed much. The economy is generally good. Kids still go to school. Loved ones still get sick. Life, once again, goes on.
What to make of this disconnect? For starters, we cannot forget that for many among us, these times are particularly cruel, especially as racial animosity rears its violent head and our immigration system betrays our ideals and often notions of humanity itself.
But that is not all the damage being done, of course. Much more is going on that is more difficult to feel, at least in the way it shapes our immediate lives. But that does not lessen its danger. It only enhances it. What we are losing is the mechanics that allowed our nation to flourish, to become better, to occupy a place of leadership in the world. This is much bigger than just one president, but therein lies a path towards hope.
No president is bigger than the country he or she serves. No president should be allowed to be bigger than our values. No president should be able to shatter what we hold dear without hearing from the electorate that this is not who we are or what we will be.
It’s okay that life goes on. We need to be true to our communities, our families, and ourselves. But those bonds can also be a base for confronting the existential threat that looms over us. Take a breath this weekend. Tend to what is around you that needs care, and from that strength and sense of purpose turn your eyes, hearts, and energy to the larger task at hand.
I have lived through many times of crises when the pain felt much more immediate to many more Americans than it does today. The way this nation persevered was by millions of decent and determined people coming together to fight for what was right.