What We Own (and don’t)

Going to keep it short today, because my beloved Falcons have a huge game coming up soon, and I’d rather devote my mental energies to that than to more self-flagellation over political matters. Still, a few things seem to bubble to the surface no matter how much I try not to think about them, and today my thought on the matter of our new president is this:

We think we own things, but we don’t.

Take Trump’s supporters, and his victory in the election. Misogyny and possible sexual assault and mocking of handicapped individuals and all that good stuff aside, what brought him to victory was a masterful orchestrating of ingroup/outgroup thinking. To white people across the country, especially to white people living outside of cities, he said: you have been forgotten, and you will be forgotten no more. That message resonated. It got him elected. (Personally I’ll be shocked if he actually delivers on anything that benefits middle- and lower-class people of any race, but that’s neither here nor there, for now.)

The rhetoric speaks for itself. Make America great again. Take back the white house, take back the country. What isn’t said is more significant: Make America great again because it has been tarnished. Take back the white house because it’s been taken from us.

But we’re guilty of the same flawed thinking on the left, too. (And I include myself on the left only because I am so very, very NOT on the right. The left is downright stupid about its share of issues, too.) Now that Trump and the Republicans have the power, we have to fight for what’s ours. We have to protect our country from the damage they’re waiting to do.

Again, the unspoken message is that this is our country and they are going to fargo it up.

But people on the left don’t own America, any more than people on the right do. Or did. Or ever will. It belongs to everyone, to all of us, which means that really, it belongs to none of us. It’s not like we have this part of the soup bowl for white America, and this part for black America, and this part for gay Americans, and this part for Muslim Americans, and any other division you care to think of. It’s all one big bowl of soup. We’re all mixed in here together. And sure, you take a spoonful of the soup and you might get a little more beef in one bite, more potato in the next, but the flavors bleed across into everything; each spoonful shares something in common with the whole.

This isn’t our America vs their America. It’s just America. It doesn’t belong to white people. It doesn’t belong to black people. It doesn’t belong to men, or to women, or to Christians or Jews or straight people or Creed fans. It belongs to all of us.

We can yell and scream and finger-point all we want, but at the end of the day, we’re all simmering in the same big bowl of soup. Thinking of this as an us-vs-them is a zero-sum game. “We” (whichever “we” you prefer) don’t win by shutting “them” up. We win when we realize that while it might be a really groovy idea to add some horseradish to the soup to enhance the flavor of the beef, that’s really going to play havoc with the carrots and the celery, so maybe we save the horseradish for a time when we’re not having soup.

Put another way, consider a national forest. It’s lush, green, lovely, full of bears. It belongs to me, because I pay my taxes. But it doesn’t belong to me the way my house belongs to me, in that I can’t take a chainsaw to a tree because I don’t like the way its shade drifts across my breakfast nook in the summer morning. Further, if I go trying to recreate the national park the way I see fit — say, by clear-cutting acres of forest to make way for a dope skate park — there’s a price I pay. Not just in the fines and jail time I’ll face, but also in the fact that I’ve pretty much screwed up the park for everybody who doesn’t care about dope skate parks. And that “everybody” happens to include more people than the group that does care about dope skate parks. All of which is to say nothing about the displaced grizzly bears that are likely to wander into my breakfast nook and have a bloody tantrum over the lack of shade.

Point is, we have to stop thinking of America as this thing that belongs to us but not them. Like the national park, it belongs to all of us. Like the bowl of soup, we are all intermingled within it.

The quicker we can acknowledge that — on BOTH sides — the quicker we can actually start solving problems in ways that work for everybody.

But not for Packers fans. At least not today. Today is Atlanta’s day.

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