It was an excruciating week and the emotions of it yet linger. To the haunting images of 9-11 from 13 years ago are now added remarkable photos and video of Hurricane Irma; the millions temporarily displaced; those who died; and the billions of dollars it will take to get things back to a semblance of normal. It was life on a dramatic scale — so great and vast that we felt anew the fragility of life on a fragile planet.
And while we remained understandably preoccupied with such stories, other equally troubling accounts — Myanmar,South Sudan,Syria,Yemen,Nigeria,North Korea,Russia and the warnings from NATO's chief that the world is at its most dangerous point in a generation — need our attention.
All of this has been transpiring in an era where people grow increasingly distrustful of government and political intentions. We have arrived at a crucible where the greatest challenges of our time are far more daunting than in recent memory and lie outside of the ability of random individuals to effectively respond.
In other words, we need government now more than we realize and it's no longer good enough to just cast aspersions at politics and politicians and believe we can wash our hands of government necessity. Challenges are piling up at an alarming rate at the same time as democracy is stumbling about in attempts to find a new relevance for the coming age. Our low regard for politics is sadly stripping away our ability to collectively respond through effective governance. The more we follow our individualistic paths the less chance we will have of defeating the traumatic challenges standing in civilization's path.
We now have great common foes but no shared idea for how to meet them. Democracy was supposed to be the political solution to our social, economic and environmental problems, but we somehow don't seem to believe in it enough anymore to develop a collective response.
British political commentator Bernard Crick worried about what would happen when people lost interest in the potential of government for good. He wrote a book to counteract the trend, titled In Defense of Politics, and he reminded his readers what was at stake:
"Political activity is a type of moral activity. It does not claim to settle every problem or to make every sad heart glad, but it can help some way in nearly everything and, where it is strong, it can prevent the vast cruelties and deceits of ideological rule."
When Crick talked about "moral activity," he was speaking of citizens as much as politicians — a shared estate between citizens and their elected representatives. We have no other way forward, and as long as our politics remains as divided as it is, we shall be overcome. There is no left or right in this equation, only a shared way ahead.
Voters have a rightful suspicion of the self-serving intentions of the political parties. Too many good politicians remain trapped within a partisan architecture that demeans their better instincts. Yet, in more ways than we may care to admit, voters suffer from a similar fractious outlook. By rigorously siding with one particular political party or another, they frequently lose sight of the need to partner with one another in a shared democracy. And should they opt out of political responsibility altogether, such a negative response only adds to our collective dysfunction.
In all the struggles of partisan bickering, or in the propensity to just "sit out" this round of democratic responsibility, there remains a growing inability to collectively face what's coming next. It could from numerous directions and with diverse threats.
Yet our greatest danger is the chance we can't get our collective act together. Politicians are so busy fighting one another and citizens are confounded as for how to disagree with one another without being disagreeable. When commentator Bill Moyers noted that "democracy only works when people claim it as their own," he was talking about us. There is no other solution to our challenges. In our collective strength is our greatest hope.
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