Sun, May

The Real Emergency: It’s Not the Wall. It’s Not the Shutdown. It’s You and Me.


INTEL REPORT--Our lunatic head of state’s favorite new tactic shouldn’t surprise anyone: threatening to declare a state of emergency over his ridiculous wall. Authoritarians are abusers — and abusers love nothing more than creating false, imaginary emergencies with which to justify their escalating abuse. Any abusive relationship is a series of false emergencies, really, about an abuser’s unmet narcissistic demands — love me, adore me, obey me, more, harder, faster. See what you made me do? I had to build a wall, to keep you where you belong!

Listen. He’s going to use this threat…forever. Get used to it. The next two years are going to be this threat dangled over the head of America like a giant sword hanging from the slenderest thread. Until either impeachment happens, or the end of term does, this threat of declaring an emergency is going to be used on a more or less daily basis. Fake News! You can’t investigate me! Waaah!! Where’s my pacifier! No — you made me hit you! Emergency!!!

And in response, I’ve read tweet after tweet, article after article. “The real emergency isn’t the wall — it’s [insert problem]” Listen. They’re all right. The real emergency in America isn’t the wall. The real emergency in America is all the emergencies. There’s no need to think they’re mutually excluding — the truth is they reinforce each other. But the truest emergency of all, I think, is the one hiding in plain sight. It’s us.

It’s an emergency that the average American has maybe $500 in emergency savings. It’s an emergency 80% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. It’s an emergency that having a child costs half of annual median income. It’s an emergency that college costs more than a house. It’s an emergency that people can’t retire after a lifetime of hard work — but hedge funds can “raid” their pensions. It’s an emergency that little kids in America are traumatized by “active shooter drills.”

Those are all emergencies, my friends. They are things that a decent, competent leader would have declared emergencies long ago. They’re existential problems that threaten the things at the core of a society — trust, optimism, belief, belonging. They corrode the very meaning of the word democracy, by making a mockery of its great ideals, freedom, equality, and justice. Do you see my point a little now? The real emergency is all the real emergencies.

But the truth is America’s emergencies go deeper still.

There are socioeconomic emergencies — and what you might call emergencies of the human mind. It’s an emergency that American economics can’t, even at this dismal juncture, recommend healthcare for everyone — that it’s trapped in an obsolete, bizarre ideology which says capitalism is the only answer to everything. It’s an emergency that American psychology tells people to have “grit” and “resilience” and practice “self-care” — instead of recognizing that daily brushes with very real death, whether through a lack of decent healthcare, or kids having to do those “active shooter drills”, is creating a nation of badly, severely traumatized people. It’s an emergency that American political science still thinks the best way to interact with the world is as a preening, strutting empire, which must start pre-emptive wars, that accomplish nothing, but cost American lives. It’s an emergency that American social thought appears to study neither history, nor the world, and still has yet to explain to Americans they are living in a repeat of the 1930s — stagnation, demagogue, fascism, bang!

All these emergencies of the mind, too, are things that leaders in their respective fields must address. How can a society prosper if it can’t think anymore? But where are those leaders? Do you see many people around challenging these foundations of American thought, which are so clearly both ruinous and false? I don’t. The real emergency, again, is all the real emergencies.

And yet we are not at the rock bottom of emergency yet. There are material emergencies — my first list — and emergencies of the mind, my second. And then there are what you might call emergencies of the soul.

Why is it that it has become “American” to be told to believe in cruelty? How did the American dream — I work hard, I provide for my family, I have my little home — a humble, simple thing, become a bloated wreck of a consumerist fantasy — I need a McMansion! And a vacation home! And designer babies! Why is it that the central organizing idea of American life today — social Darwinism, that only the strong deserve to survive, and the weak deserve to perish — goes unchallenged, still, as a philosophy, as a way of seeing the world, on every talk show, in every newspaper column? Why is it that raising the idea that the predatory society America allowed itself to become — in stark contrast to its greatest ideals — has been a disaster and a failure both? Why is it that questioning the value of predators to society is still taboo — as is questioning any system of exploitation, really, whether capitalism, patriarchy, or supremacy? Sure — we can discuss issues at last — should everyone have Medicare? — and that’s a good thing. But we still don’t really discuss systems, philosophies, defining ideas, well, often, or very much — if at all.

That is because, I think, we are still a little afraid to be honest with each other. Maybe even with ourselves. About the way that we feel about who we have become. And that is the real emergency, my friends. American once yearned to be the world’s most revolutionary, radical, and transformative people. Now, they failed from the very outset — through slavery and racism. That set the stage for this strange, schizophrenic thing America became — a nation with the loftiest ideals, which too often settled for the easiest realities.

Over the last thirty years, I think, the emergency has become us. You and I. It’s only recently, with the election of a new Congress, that we’ve begun to take back a few of the things we lost — democracy, decency, worth in one another, a shared purpose. And that’s a good thing. But it also points to what we let happen to us. We denied one another all those things. Maybe we denied them to ourselves.

We said — too many of us, too often — that nobody is worth anything. Not even me. And then, having created a sense of abiding worthlessness — or bought into it, thanks to capitalism — in ourselves and in the world around us, we went out and tried to fill the hole left behind with stuff. Houses, cars, money, things. We are learning, though, that that way was a dead end. Not just materially — because it only made a tiny few mega rich — but spiritually, emotionally, authentically. It didn’t lead to happiness and belonging and meaning. We are learning that more of what matters in life is found by lifting others up than by taking what is theirs. Our moral muscles grow — and happiness, meaning, purpose, are all moral sentiments. Cause, effect.

Are we becoming a different kind of people today? Are we growing up? It feels to me, some days, as if we are. As if we are maturing into a kind of grace. Learning to treat each other with the dignity and respect and gentleness we ourselves have always yearned for. Where else could those things come from but giving them to those we wish to receive them from first?

The real emergency is us, my friends. I don’t mean that in a spiteful, mean, judgmental way. I mean it a concerned one. In a sympathetic one. In a supportive one. Soldiering on to go to work, day after day — no raise, retirement, healthcare, support, respect, dignity. How will I raise my kids? How will I send them to college? Wouldn’t you call that an emergency? I would. And so now perhaps we are learning something. We didn’t nurture each other, care for each other, lift each other up enough, in the desperate act of self-preservation — ah, but that was the trap. I think, for a long time, we Americans didn’t even see each other. Isn’t that the truest emergency a society can have? What it says is this. Emergencies of socioeconomy, emergencies of the mind, emergencies of the soul — they are really ways in which we reel, hurt, suffer. In which we mourn and grieve and shrink.

It is in that sense that I mean the emergency is us — not that we are deficient or lacking, but that we are more wounded, more hurt, than we know. We are a nation reeling in shock, battered by trauma, abused by the very ones who should have served and protected us. We are a nation torn between incandescent rage and bitter disappointment. We are angry when we are not depressed, and we are depressed when we are not angry. We are fighting to reclaim the very basics of project once proudly called America, to redeem a thing we used to take for granted and call destiny —and that is work that is more exhausting and unforgiving and draining and thankless than we often stop to think about. We are in genuine and profound psychological, emotional, personal distress from the events of the last two years, last two decades, last two months, last two days. We’re scarred and bruised and burned-out inside. And yet, my friends, here we are. Here we are still.

The emergency is us. We are a nation whose spirit was very nearly broken — yet here we are, still bravely fighting through a terrible hurricane, to guide this battered ship back to land. We will reach the shores, my friends. But let us see ourselves clearly, for just a moment, furiously wrestling the water and the wind. We are finally aching and yearning to be free again. It’s a beautiful kind of hurt, isn’t it?


(Unmair Haque posts Medium.com … where this piece originated.)