I read the New York Times this morning, as I usually do on Sundays. We get the NYT every day but I don’t always go through it as thoroughly as I do on Sundays. As is often the case of late, I found myself skimming over the things that relate to the next Presidential election and politics. It almost wears me out to read about the latest crazy comment about abolishing government, see the effects of corporate influence and control over various Congressional members and the extreme views of people trying to look appealing to a “base” of people who seem to have a lot of money, but are anti-science, anti-education, anti-social programs of every type, anti-regulation and believe that the “free market” actually works as a self-regulating, self-contained system.
If you’ve been following the financial crisis in Europe, you are likely to see leaders from various countries who disagree on many levels about many things, but are working to figure out solutions to economic problems that will impact the world. The crisis is serious and the people there treat it that way. When I watch the current crop of GOP candidates try to respond to how each would fix the economy, all I hear is talking points and slogans. A few of them have introduced some new financial plan that is as simplistic as the people touting it. Economists all agree that these plans would never work and would destroy what is left of the middle class. But the candidates keep spouting ideas like building electrified fences around the country, abolishing the Environmental Protection Agency and giving tax breaks to the “job creators,” who are hoarding their money as they ship jobs to other countries that will let them do whatever they want.
The state of this country is not a joke, and yet at times, watching the “news” or listening to the candidates–it is as if we are living in a situation comedy. Twenty-four hour cable news has become an extremely destructive communication tool by focusing on speculation, spreading rumors without any support or fact-checking, creating issues where there are none and just plain making things up. When debates are held (I can’t really stand to watch them all the way through), the candidates are not pressed hard to support their outrageous statements or explain their positions. They are allowed to just spout off their sound-bites, answering the questions they pretend were asked, instead of really answering the questions.
So many American ideals seem to be fading away. People tip-toe around accountability–ready to take credit when things work out and shrug their shoulders and point the blame at someone else when it doesn’t. Politicians play to the polls and to their corporate funders. Everything and everyone seems to have a purchase price. Governing with integrity for its own sake, taking a stand that doesn’t just toe the party line, looking out for the interests of actual people versus corporate people–all these things seem a bit old-fashioned and naive. Not getting caught in a lie is not the same thing as telling the truth. Truth should not be slippery.
In the end, perhaps the most effective tool we have is live our lives with personal integrity. To me that means taking the time to learn about the issues by doing my own research and voting accordingly. It might mean choosing not to purchase products from companies whose practices I question. Although it is inconvenient, we can take our money out of the financial institutions that have made a mess of things and keep our money in local banks. We must speak up, whether by voting, demonstrating, writing letters to our representatives or the newspaper. Our actions and our choices matter, now more than ever. If we can hope to turn this country around, we must first hold ourselves to the highest standard of honesty, compassion and accountability and then demand the same from those who govern, the companies we buy from and each other.