Sunday, January 29, 2017

A World Spinning on Black Ice

Most of us who have lived in the northern hemisphere have experienced the phenomenon of black ice. Its name is perhaps a bit of a misnomer because the ice is not really black, but a thin, clear sheet of glaze over a black pavement, making the road look normal when in fact it is treacherously slick. When motorists hit it unaware their car can unexpectedly spin out of control, often with tragic results.

Spinning on ice is a terrible feeling. You have all of the normal controls used to navigate the vehicle but none of them work in the usual fashion. Turning left often causes the car to go right. Pressing the brake hard doesn't stop or even slow you down; it only accelerates the spin. Normal reactions are usually the opposite of what you should do.

In these moments you realize that you are out of control and there is nothing you can do to stop it. You are going to spin until something intervenes--a guard rail, a shoulder of grass or dirt, another vehicle equally adrift. And it all happens in a manner of seconds.

I have been feeling just like that since January 20, only nine days into a new administration in Washington, D.C. I say this in a deeply heartfelt way and not as someone whining because my candidate didn't win. I have made no secret of my distaste for Donald Trump and for the entire 2016 presidential election, whatever party or person one may prefer. I posted an essay about seeing the election through the eyes of a Canadian immigrant and another trying to find some sense of equilibrium as I sorted through the voting outcome. Many of my friends checked out of watching the news, blocking out their despair over the new world order that seemed to be on its way. I didn't go that far, but my pain was palpable and made manifest in many ways.

I didn't even have time to articulate my desire to "give the guy a chance" before the executive orders and cabinet appointments made that impossible. I won't try to expand upon all the things that immediately became troubling, but the list is long. 

But it's not the list so much as the underlying issues that need to be sorted out. The real problem is the need to disentangle policies from their foundations. Where does immigration policy separate from racist and religious foundations? Where does economic policy separate from class and ethnic foundations? Where does foreign affairs policy separate from corporate profit foundations?  Where does domestic policy separate from human rights and special interest foundations?

And then there is the man who is our president. How does his immense wealth, and the relationships that attend it, shape the decisions that are made on behalf of the American people? To what degree does his personal behavior subject him to potential blackmail or other similar threats? What can we make of his enormous ego needs that push the country into having to deal with competing head counts at marches and other gatherings, or with bogus claims of election fraud?

How can we understand the ridiculous flirtation with the Russian thug who has amassed a vast fortune through theft, bullying, and even murder, all the while using his influences to affect the electoral outcome in the United States? What are we expected to do with policy pronouncements that come in the middle of the night by tweet, or with outraged reactions to SNL skits or movie star critiques? How can we live in a fragile world with a world leader who cannot measure his words or subdue his petty anger?

As I write this, airports are congested in response to an executive order banning a variety of nationals and persons of certain faiths from entering the country, despite being in possession of valid visas and passports. A silly argument about paying for a silly wall is occupying attention around the world. Europe is in an uproar over the future of NATO and questions about trade and treaty abound.

Yes, there have been protests on an impressive scale and around the world. But that is not necessarily a good thing, in comparison to what ought to be. Our president has triggered these marches, but it is our country that ultimately takes the hit. This is too much, too fast, too far.

All this in just nine days.

Which brings me back to black ice.

We have entered the road at full speed. There is no attention given to speaking with clarity and purpose, having taken the time to iron out the language and make certain that key players understand. There is little respect for the leaders of other nations and even less for other cultures. There is no room for subtlety. Where a small Phillips screwdriver is needed a jackhammer is preferred. We are led by someone on a huge learning curve who thinks he is always the smartest person in the room. There are too many earth-shattering, globe-changing issues on the table.

We've got to slow down. We must.

Nah! We're pushing the pedal all the way to the floor.

And why shouldn't we?

After all, there's just that long beautiful stretch of black road ahead.