There is a game called Jenga. It is a game of physical skill created by a British board game designer. Players take turns removing one block at a time from a tower constructed of 54 blocks. Each block removed is then placed on top of the tower, creating a progressively more unstable structure. America’s tower of blocks faces a similar instability.
When is polarization debilitating or maybe when isn’t it?
When is too much debt, well too much debt?
When does the revenue needed to pay pensions and healthcare benefits to the retired overwhelm the duties and related budgets of educators and police and firefighters to do the job today?
What replaces Judeo-Christian morality? If the Bible is obsolete, what is the alternative narrative that provides moral structure? Or is moral structure obsolete?
Or looking forward, what happens when living in the past defeats the present? When prejudices we thought were behind us are used as fresh fuel to defeat the perceived enemy and future?
America is not invulnerable. What does “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” mean today—not yesterday but today? The principles have an enduring ring, yet their vibrations failed in 1776 to include Native Americans and Slaves. And the 18th century was patriarchal and agrarian—today we live in an egalitarian society that is increasingly technology-centric.
So that is the back story, now back to the basic questions and those pesky Jenga blocks.
Many of these questions, I suspect, are asked by a fair number of people. Do we call them skeptics? Do they have a political party? Or, are most voters now so magnetized by identity politics and confirmation bias that they allow their legislative representatives to put aside difficult questions? Or, allow them to shape the answers around short-term interests insisted by dominant special interest groups?
So here we are without a plan that will incrementally wean us from fossil fuels because the Left blocks the potential use of next generation nuclear energy. And military weapons are available to everybody because the Right brain is fused to the 2nd amendment when the available weapon, in 1791 (when the Bill of Rights was ratified), was primarily a musket.
And while public schools in urban and suburban areas are abandoned by parents who can scrape together enough money to exercise choice, choice is denied to persons without the wherewithal because of union interests. Public school leadership would be stronger if it embraced choice, saying “we welcome competition because we can prove we are better.”
It is said that people who occupy center ground in politics—those who ask uncomfortable questions of each party—are squishies, unprincipled. My view is that people who ask questions before and while forming opinions should be applauded. If you check every box of either Parties platform, I would suggest that a reexamination would be timely.
In some ways one of the most distressing absences is margin. We should always want margin so if the other guy wins we can shed a tear and go back to work.
In the 1950s I was taught to write line-by-line to the margins of the paper to waste as little paper as possible. In the 1960s, as complexity intervened, I began to double space and leave margin. A brief or a memo or later a book and now short essays infrequently ended as they began. I needed to leave room, margin, to answer questions that writing forced me to face.
Today we all risk leaving too little or no margin. It is said by the Right and Left that they must win or the country is going to hell. Political figures, masquerading as the knowing, convert partisan advocacy to certainty as they attempt to demonize their opposite number.
Let’s face it, we live in a severely split nation where friends and family alike face off. We need margin, we need to be able to wish the winner well because that has been one key to our country’s spiritual and economic prosperity.
So, congratulations President-elect Biden—may history record greatness! And keep in mind that election data show that your electoral margin resulted from ticket-splitters.
Thanksgiving, 2020, was pinched by illness—perhaps it’s just as well. Families split by politics didn’t have to face-off across the table from one another. And maybe, I hope, we will feel the absence of family and pledge that in 2021 we will spend more time looking for thankfulness.
In the meantime, we should quit pulling out Jenga blocks that are crucial to the future of our country.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.