I said to him, “I think we’re done here.”
He looked at me, waiting for the next shoe.
“As a country, I mean,” I say. “It’s been a good run but I think we reached the end, logical or not.”
“Think about it. If she’d been elected – they just would not have let her govern. Yeah, she has lots of government contacts and plenty of savvy and could have done a decent job, but there would have been no honeymoon period.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Really. Look at the last eight years. What did he get done? Or rather, what did they let him do?”
“There was Obamacare.”
“OK, OK, Affordable Care Act.”
“Words matter. There are so many bozos out there who hate it just because it’s called Obamacare and yet who love and benefit from the ACA. It’s evil genius branding: the other side demonizes it with his name, rather than our side finding a way to enshrine it and make it amazing because it has his name on it. It’s the ACA. It’s a good thing. And because –“ I pause. “Getting off the point. The point is that in eight years, he got one win. One win that they are struggling – and I certainly hope failing – to destroy right now.”
“One win. One win in eight years. I’m sure there were a lot of smaller things, but he came in and I remember thinking in that first week this is how good government should be run; he’s really taking on Guantanamo and eight years later the only true, significant change he can take credit for is the ACA. Which is on life support.”
“Other good things happened. The Supremes made gay marriage legal. We opened things up in the military for gays who are serving.”
“These are not policy decisions from on high. We got one thing. Eight years.”
“But back to my real point: Here’s why we’re over. She would not have been allowed to govern. They would have turned their backs on her and made every bit of the election fodder that they did not believe in the entire focus of her presidency. And because she actually cares, because she actually thinks that what the majority of voters believe matters, she’d have spent all of her time trying to shore up her reputation, to argue and dispute and guess how much we’d have gotten accomplished in her presidency?”
“Nothing. Not one thing at all. And here’s why we’re done.”
“You keep saying that.”
“I’m getting there. Here’s why we’re done: Because these people are no longer politicians. I mean in Congress. They’re not politicians. They are not representing you. They are not even representing the United States of America.”
“A politician has to make compromises. OK. A politician figures out what his or her people want, and what they need, and makes a balance. They try to ensure jobs stay in the area, they make sure budget is directed where it should go, they ensure parks are created and infrastructure is maintained. Yes, you must pay taxes so that we can have roads where your car doesn’t fall into potholes and schools where kids are educated and not running loose on the street when they’re young or boosting your car when they’re older and can’t get jobs.
“But over the years there’s been a gnawing away at what the job of a politician is supposed to be. First off, they’re getting paid better than we the taxpayers pay them by people with special interests. So, that park you were promised – well, this guy who paid me money and also voted for me is more valuable than you, who only voted for me, because money, and since he wants to look for unobtanium beneath the ground of that park, well, the park’s going away. Second, they got distracted because the shiny of social interests is so headline-making and seems so much more crucial and important than the actual business of running a government. I’m not saying all social issues are secondary or not important. But they – like the money – have taken an outsize chunk of our attention and headlines and now it seems like the only things anyone can campaign on is Who Is Terrorizing Our Children and Why Are there So Many More People Who Aren’t White Around and Who is Paying Me the Most to Sell Out. Meanwhile, the dams are leaking, bridges are falling, people aren’t making living wages so they can’t pay if they get sick and look, Mr. Unobtainium Prospector paid me good money and now you’re telling him he can’t dump his waste into the East River? Fuck that noise, let’s stop regulating everything!”
“Right. So. We no longer have politicians. We no longer have people who are looking out for us. We have corporate hires in the guise of politicians who will do anything possible to appease the noisy rabble while simultaneously acceding to the desires and whims of whoever is paying them the most. If the Constitution supports whatever left turn they think they’re taking, they’re all about seeming patriotic. If it doesn’t, well, they just don’t make it part of the conversation. The fact is, if we had actual politicians, actual patriots in office they would never fall in line even 75% of the time with the party, much less the 99.9% they’ve been doing. They would ask themselves daily, hourly: Is this actually what the country is about? Is this actually in support of the principles the country was founded on? WWGWS? WWTJS? But they don’t. The reason ‘fake news’ is in the discussion now is that they’ve fallen off the actual donkey cart with their twisting around to try and justify their gratuitous, self-serving behavior and they have to resort to lying and undermining actual facts to make themselves seem worthy and electable.”
“But, Elizabeth Warren. Bernie.”
“Not enough. Wonderful, heartening, but it’s like saying ‘your body is riddled with cancer but your spleen is OK and the pituitary is still working.’” I pause. “There is one truth that did come out of this election: upending the system is necessary. Unfortunately for everyone, you can’t just latch on to any charlatan who comes down the pike claiming he can really change the system. It has to be the right one. And I don’t know – I think we’re too far gone for even the most shining example of the right one to make much of a difference.”
“That’s pretty bleak.”
“I know. But think about it: Let’s say we managed to find a pristine politician whose life work had been only to the good, who has no scandals but also has a fiery passion to do the right thing and will not permit moral compromising. That Hollywood hero image only works if that person can rally the masses and at least a nice chunk of the current ruling elites to her side. I don’t think that even if we had someone like that today they’d get any traction at all. Someone burrowed into the brains of the other side and continues to whisper in their ear that all that matters is staying in power – by any means necessary. There is no sense of fair play. There is no sense that others have different stories than you do, and might not see or experience the world the way you do. There is no sense that gray areas exist. All that exists is: who will pay me the most, and how do I get to stay in power. There is no other excuse for what we’re seeing these days in Congress. It’s embarrassing, it’s sad, and it’s scary, not necessarily in that order.”
“I’m saying we’ve lost it. Whatever it we had is gone. Of course it matters to fight back. You do that to protect your sanity. It’s nice to think and occasionally feel that you’re making inroads. And we should do that. But – I think we’re done. The core is rotten. The loopholes are all we have any more. And it’s not that everyone is for sale, but that everyone has been bought.”
It feels quiet around us. Like we’re in some kind of bubble.
The waiter brings the check.
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