Hey, what’s happening? We
always want to know “what’s happening” when in fact, more often than not, nothing
is. We have evolved into an emotionally
infantile generation with notoriously short attention spans and an obsessive
need for activity. We have little
or no patience, demanding instant gratification even in the face of the most
complex problems. Like children on
a long car trip, we’re incessantly asking that familiar question, “are we there
yet?” The news media, with our full blessing and support, obliges us by playing
into and feeding this state of affairs.
So dependent upon and addicted to the idea that something must always be
happening, it often shamelessly invents news
to fill a totally arbitrary 24/7 cycle. Much has been made of the precipitous decline, some would say
free fall, of our once robust newspapers.
What may have gone unnoticed is that as The New York Times and others
shift online, they too have fallen into of
the moment reporting, with stories appearing and disappearing on their home
pages with the blink of an eye. Much
of this feverish pace is kept not so much to inform as to feed their often mega
corporate beast and insecurities.
Hey, what’s happening? Of
course, there are times when something really is happening. In fact, at present I would argue that
less is happening than should be, far less than is needed. Following critical healthcare and
climate change legislation make its way through Congress is like watching paint
dry. It’s an arduous procedure, one
purposefully designed by the Founders.
Laws that may materially impact on our lives, they reasoned, should not
be taken lightly, dare not be rushed.
That said, it’s highly unlikely they had in mind what’s currently playing
out in Washington. Congress and consequently our government have become
effectively dysfunctional, as grown and supposedly responsible people are
involved in a purposeful and methodical process of destructive engagement. On one side are the proposers on the other naysayers. Consider the source rules the day; substantive
content or need seems irrelevant.
To say witnessing this process is frustrating would be to grossly
understate the situation. It’s grotesque
on its face, deeply depressing and potentially perilous.
Perilous is what Tom Friedman thinks and on this I could not agree
more. In a democracy everything
depends on compromise, meeting each other at least half way. In the best of circumstances, there are
enough people of good will and with the national interest at heart, to rise
above parochial concerns and find more than sub-optimal solutions, which is all we are doing these days, if at all. At present, those charged with
guiding the ship of state don’t seem to share even the pretense of a common
goal. It seems that only the
threat of Armageddon, as was the case when the financial system faced the
brink, will result in even a minimum of joint action, and that with a
substantial amount of bluster and posturing. So, in those infrequent moments we often reach too far and, terrified
of losing the opportunity, too fast.
The Patriot Act came that way, as did TARP. But those moments are just that and soon the inmates descend
into their now assumed stance of governing
by irrational divisiveness. That
can’t sustain us.
In assessing President Obama’s recent trip to Asia, a number of
analysts pointed to the fact that the Chinese take a longer view of things that
do we. They think they have time,
and don’t like getting ahead of themselves. In a sense, navigating the new world means facing deep and
multiple cultural divides on all fronts.
For us, who like to begin each encounter with, Hey, what’s happening, it is tantamount to speaking a language whose
difference transcends, say English and Chinese. It is a language difference of mindset not characters and
words. When our side is comprised
of people with infantile impatience compounded by an inability to communicate,
much less work, with one another, it’s fair to wonder if the very democracy that
we’re practicing today remains viable.
Can it get anything important done? Let’s face it, the winners in the twenty-first century are
likely to be grownups. I’m not
sure our current behavior, what’s happening and what is not, always makes the