Friday, October 4, 2013

US Government Shutdown: Reflections

THE DAY AFTER the government shutdown in October, I went to my work. We commenced to have a lively discussion lamenting the following things: 

  1. John Boehner
  2. The gerrymandering of districts by both parties so no Congressional seats can ever be truly contested
  3. The inexplicable phenomena of the Tea Party having so much power in the Republican Party
  4. John Boehner and other politicians’ “me-first” leadership (influenced no doubt by the media and its constant quips on how if Boehner calls for a vote, then "he's surrendering!")
  5. How the US government shutdown may be part of our larger decline in the eyes of the world
  6. What this gradual accumulation of wealth in a smaller and smaller percentage of people at the top without being re-distributed means for capitalism (and for our daily lives)
  7. The Legislature’s non-actions being like if the Executive said, “I’m not going to do anything until you pass gun control"
  8. And John Boehner. Seriously, Boehner, just call a vote in the House already.

It got dark and depressing as usual. Yay for gridlocked democracy.

After work, I took my forty-minute bus ride back home. I sat next to a talker: an older man of Japanese descent who’d been born and raised here on Oahu. He started asking if I was going to school here, what I was studying, and he gradually coaxed me into conversation. Naturally, the topic swayed toward politics and everything that was going wrong, and I was surprised when he kept up with me. Contemporary issue for contemporary issue. And I had to recognize my own egalitarian bias, that an everyday guy on the street would know as much as me if not more about the pitfalls of our current system. But I’m young and think I know everything.

We talked about a lot of things. The grandfather pointed out that Hawai’i reflects the shift of cultural values that the rest of the mainland is *now* experiencing with the influx of South American and Asian immigrants. While the mainland (Tea Party) is struggling to comprehend that the “norm” isn’t Puritanical white values infused with the old “pioneer spirit/manifest destiny” anymore (hasn’t been for some time)—the landscape has shifted—Hawai’i has known this for a long time. Things here obviously aren’t perfect. There’s racism as people of different cultural values negotiate living together and there’s the real danger of the Hawaiian language disappearing forever. But people have had more time to see that these different narratives can intertwine together while not losing what makes them different.

In Washington, when I’d watch the news, a good chunk of it would be spent on violence and who’d been murdered in yet another shooting spree. On Oahu, the local news will struggle to find some crime to report—but eventually they’ll just end up talking about a cute cat that ended up stuck in a tree. When there is a murder, it is shocking and sad to the entire community, and you can hear the loss in the reporter’s voice.

“I think everyone should be required to go live somewhere else for a while. Go abroad. People here are so spoiled. In America, it’s all about the convenience. Nowhere else in the world do you find the convenience we have,” the grandfather said, listing off all the places he’d been to—Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, a number of countries in Europe.

Smart guy. If there were a way to make that possible, then that would be the most awesome thing ever.

“But I love America. Greatest country in the world!” he exclaimed, as his bus stop came up. “Other nationalities may criticize America. But you give them a ticket to come here, and they’d be on the first plane over.”

I think there's some truth to that. There is something about the promise of America that is still being realized even by the people who’ve lived here our whole lives. I’d been beginning to lose my faith in the democracy we have, but this random stranger knew that even with all of its ugliness, we can’t give up on it yet.

Disclaimer: The above is depicted as fiction, not fact.

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