American Outrage, Revisited
I’m past the point where I tell my adult children that they should be patient, that things will work out, that this too shall pass. There’s outrage in this country over politics, race, sexual preference, identity, infringement on Rights, and countless other injustices. But injustice has been a part of American life since Myles Standish stuck the head of Wituwamat on a pike and the Pilgrims left it there for years as a message. The Pilgrims may have come to peacefully coexist with the Native American population, but within a generation they were sweeping aside that illusion and the march across the continent began in earnest. Brutality and injustice have been under the surface of American life from the beginning. Those in power get to choose the narrative, until that power shifts.
There’s a simple formula for understanding America. We use our personal freedom as a rallying cry of ME. I have the right to [fill in the blank] and nobody can tell me I can’t have it! Some bend or outwardly thwart the rules to get what they want, and some celebrate this as uniquely American. The heroes of Industry and Commerce, carved right into Mount Rushmore alongside Presidents. But when YOUR personal freedom gets in the way of MY personal freedom, conflict happens. And when the amplification mechanism of listen/watch me media ramps up, things get ugly. We’re in a particularly ugly period in our history at the moment. American outrage is back in force.
But America is a pendulum that always swings eventually to what is right. We’ve swung too far to the ugly, and you’re seeing a societal correction in action. It’s horrifying to watch, and I think about the scars it’s leaving on all of us, but we must pay a price for having swung too far to the ugly. We must purge that ugliness, clean up the mess and find a way to move forward together. And I think we can all agree that there’s a real mess right now. Lean into the law, lean into generosity, lean into fixing what’s broken, lean into the work that must be done.
Americans unite for common causes, and divide on everything else. Hitler, Hideki Tojo and Bin Laden learned the hard way not to unite Americans in a common cause. Sometimes we need a smack in the mouth to sharpen our focus. I thought maybe COVID-19 would be that unifying event, but apparently not enough people feel it’s more than an inconvenience to “living their best life”. It would surely help if there was a leader who united people to a common cause, but the current leadership is anything but unifying. It would help if there was a unified media making it clear that we all need to be in this together, but too many succumb to the outrage for profit platform. It would help if there was robust, proactive social outreach for the disenfranchised, but that would chip away at profitability.
America has swung to extreme ugly recently, but humanity is still largely united and pulls the pendulum back to center. We need to stop amplifying the angry voices on the edges, stop enabling outrage, stop allowing those in power to game the system, and start rewarding the positive work being done in this country and the world. This is an election year, and it’s a great time to focus on what we want America to be in one year and in the next hundred years. I’m optimistic that we’ll get it right eventually. There’s a big mess to clean up, beginning now. The pendulum must swing back to middle ground. Turn that outrage to productive work.