The United States government is a quarrelling, bickering, name-calling, divided, dysfunctional family.
Dare I remind you that we elected them?
It’s true. Those 100 senators, 435 House members, president and vice-president are all there because we put them there. Sitting back and criticizing their behavior is like parents sitting on a park bench watching their children play.
“Look at those kids!” one mother will say. “I never saw such awful behavior! The little heathens!”
“Whose kids are those, anyway?” another mom asks.
“Oh, they’re mine,” the first one admits.
Why is it we vilify Congress and government as a whole but continue to re-elect our own representatives year-in and year-out? We love our Congressman (or woman) – it’s just Congress as a whole (or, a hole) that we can’t stand.
But for those who think our government is at its lowest level ever, let me also remind you that the country split apart and the two sides went to war back in the 1860s. As bad as things are now, we’re not there yet.
And indeed, a truly democratic form of government has never been easy, or particularly pretty. The Greeks debated constantly, and Julius Ceasar got knifed on the floor of the Senate in ancient Rome.
Ever listen to a session of the House of Commons in stolid, stodgy Great Britain? Texans behave better at football games. It’s all yelling, shouting, interrupting – even with British accents, it sounds crass and crude.
Our own representatives generally do their yelling in the back rooms and committee chambers, then they come out and stand in the hallway to give sound bytes to the TV news people about how everyone except them is being so unreasonable.
It’s a mess – enough to discourage even the most patriotic American. Indeed, the actions of our leaders have made many, many of our citizens either bitter and angry and frustrated, or sent them into don’t-vote-don’t-care full-blown apathy.
Both reactions are completely understandable, and a shame.
But let me also remind you (and myself) that the government is not America. We are.
In spite of all that’s out of whack, there’s a lot that’s right about this country.
I’ve been privileged over the past few years to have some long conversations with a friend who didn’t grow up here and didn’t think our form of government made any sense.
But America the Beautiful – it made a lot of sense.
“The wisest thing you ever did was make it one country,” he said. His favorite president was Lincoln, who gave his life to keep it together.
Because America, united, is the strongest country in the world, the most prosperous, the most free, the most difficult to threaten.
From one coast to the other, from Canada to Mexico, almost an entire continent is one country, with one language, one set of laws, interconnecting highways and waterways and railroads, one power grid.
Imagine, he said, if Africa was like that – or Europe, or Asia, or South America, or anywhere else in this world. Imagine the strength that would come from that kind of unity!
Americans don’t have to imagine it. We have it. It helps to remember that.
It might even help us do a better job of managing it.
Bob Buckel is executive editor of the Messenger.