The Great American Balancing Act

Our democracy is a balancing act, deliberately designed that way. That’s why we have three equally powerful branches of government: the Presidency, the Congress, the Supreme Court.

The Constitution is also full of balancing acts. For example, the First Amendment allows freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and the right to petition. You can talk about your cheating spouse, but not state secrets; you can be a member of a truly stupid religion or cult, but not if it endorses raping or killing people; you can protest in front of the White House but not on the White House lawn; you can petition Congress, but you can’t storm the Capitol after a disappointing election. 

We’re a nation of laws that require balance, too. That’s why we have judges and juries, prosecutors and defense attorneys. 

One of the reasons our democracy has thrived for nearly 250 years is shared values. They are not just written into the Constitution; they are the pole that holds us upright and steady through the constant balancing acts.

I’m talking about “Thou shalt not steal, lie, or cheat”. These are values derived from most religions, including that bearded guy who carried stone tablets down from the mount.

Previous American generations were brought up believing in those values. Today, in many ways, they are artifacts, like black and white westerns.

Sure, politicians have skirted truth on occasion in search of their goals. Car dealers have been smarmy since just after WWII when cars were scarce and buyers plentiful, so plentiful that dealers would promise them all a car and then play them against each other for the highest price. And crooks have always been crooks. But they were the exceptions.

Most people didn’t lie or steal or cheat the way they do now. We had Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, not Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity. Our heroes were stalwarts of good ethics, like Superman whose “Truth, Justice and the American Way” was a source of pride, not cynicism. We trusted the media, banks, hospitals, schools, local and national governments, police, the courts, and other institutions. 

That balancing pole of shared values enabled our democracy to move steadily forward, with the exception of those unbalanced years between 1861 and 1865.  

Over the last few decades, however, the country has begun wobbling again, like a tightrope walker with a flimsy balancing pole.

It is easy to blame it on “He Who Rode Down” his personal escalator from his personal mount carrying his own set of values, which resulted in 30,000 false or misleading statements in 4 years, 3900 children separated from families, and 91 indictments spread over four jurisdictions, not to mention millions of smitten fans who support him despite his values of lying, stealing, and cheating.

But let’s not forget two things: one, the citizens of this country elected him in 2016 and might do so again in 2024; and two, the rejection of shared values started well before The Don arrived, or he wouldn’t have been elected in the first place.

When Nixon was caught covering up for just one crime, the Watergate burglary, the nation was outraged and Nixon, with only 20% support, resigned rather than risk humiliating himself. When Ford pardoned him, the nation was outraged again, to the point of not re-electing him.

Compare that to The Don and his willingness to fight two impeachments while President, and 91 indictments while running for President again with the support of 40% of voters, according to the latest FiveThirtyEight poll.

What happened?

The same thing that put more guns into the country than people, the same thing that allows Comcast and Verizon, Amazon, Google and others to operate like monopolies, the same thing that has allowed Fox News to spew lies for years, the same thing that has broken trust in our institutions, from Congress to police to the medical system to public schools to the media. 

A loss of shared values.

Which is why this great American balancing act is teetering, the pole of shared values twisted into angry knots.

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)

Why I’m Not Afraid of Getting Old

When my parent’s generation grew old, they were, to put it politely, screwed. 

During their lives cars had been invented, so if they got sick, they could get to a hospital faster. On the other hand, being old they could drive badly and get into bad car accidents and die, because, well, cars had been invented.

They could get sick and die from all kinds of new diseases discovered in their lifetimes, like Ebola or Sickle Cell or HIV or SARS.

Wars were much worse in their life times and occurred with more frequency: there were 20 years between WWI and WWII, 5 years between WWII and Korea, and 1 year between the Korea and Vietnam. 

I feel sorry for my parents’ generation; the older they got, the more ways there were to die.

My generation’s wars are much smaller and kill fewer people. Iraq and Afghanistan were pretty deadly, but nothing like my parents’ wars. Also, my generation is starting to use drones and robots in place of people. Pretty smart, huh? 

Medically, my generation is looking much better than my parents’ generation. It may be almost impossible for us to schedule a doctor visit, but we have Urgent Care.  And if Urgent Care is full our doctors can make a house calls via computer. Granted, we only get 5 to 10 minutes a visit, but we do so from the comfort of our homes.

Oh! And concierge doctors – the newest thing – will actually answer the phone or see me in a day or two …or make a house call! (OK, sure, to give credit where credit’s due: house calls were invented by my parents’ generation… actually their parents’ generations…actually many before them…. On the other hand, my generation rediscovered them, so we’re still cool.)

When my parents’ generation got too old to drive, they depended on their kids or busses or taxis to get to the train station or grocery store or the mall. Not me. When I’m too old to drive I have all of the above plus Uber and Lyft.  

If I need groceries, instead of going to the grocery store, I can use Instacart. And guess what? When I use Instacart, I just buy what I need; I don’t walk all the aisles and get sucked into impulse buying. 

And for other items, I can use Amazon or Walmart or Target or others.

Who needs kids, anyway?

And guess what? I don’t need to go to the bank at all; I can do all my banking with my computer (except for cash and cash is so 20 Century).

Being old and housebound might crimp time with my kids or friends, but I have Facetime, so I won’t have to stare at the wall when I’m alone the way my parents’ generation did. And with Facetime I won’t have to get dressed up either; I can just comb my hair and put on a clean shirt. In fact, I won’t even have to brush my teeth (just kidding. I will. Really. No, really)

So, all in all, I’m not afraid of getting old. I mean, the only thing I’m worried about is losing my memory. But that’s unlikely.  I still write my columns.

When my parent’s generation grew old, they were, to put it politely, screwed. During their lives cars had been invented, so if they got sick, they could get to a hospital faster. On the other hand–

–Wait! Did I just say that?  Oh crap!  I’m screwed!

(If you like this, pass it on. If you don't, pass it on anyway. Why should you suffer alone?)