Walking a tightrope between America’s two competing philosophies

     The greatest task of the Founding Fathers and all who’ve come since was welding together a nation of rugged individualists. They largely succeeded. America is the world’s greatest superpower, most prosperous society, and for generations its citizens have been safe from foreign invasion and civil conflict. It works because we come together as a community when we need to.
     Individualism, former Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart writes here, is “the ideology that values personal freedom and autonomy, the right to pursue one’s own goals and desires and values the rights of the individual above those of the state or other social groups.” Americans exercise their freedom in many ways, from business to politics to religion.
     Yet what holds it all together is shared responsibility, civic consciousness, the idea we’re in this together, and our willingness to come together in common enterprise with shared purpose for the community’s sake when we need to. In wartime, we’ve set aside our personal pursuits, accepted rationing, worked in war factories, made homefront sacrifices, and fought together on the frontlines where teamwork is everything and individualism must be set aside altogether, because our nation’s survival — and by extension our own — depended on it.
     Even in normal times, if there is such a thing, our individual selfish interests constantly come into conflict with community needs. We give up neither, but seek a balance. We may, for example, donate money to a charity instead of spending it on ourselves. During the current crisis, I’ve contributed to food drives; these are tiny personal sacrifices, but contributions to a greater good nonetheless. I also served in the military, in a war, and that was a large personal sacrifice.
     It doesn’t take a thinker, or much thought, to realize that “individual” and “community” exist on the same spectrum and push against each other; and where they collide isn’t a fixed place, but is constantly moving in one direction or the other, as changing circumstances require more or less devotion to community needs, or permit more or less individualism and selfish pursuits.
     This is part of the reason why our collective political preference switches back and forth between two parties with different ideologies and governing philosophies. While this oversimplifies things, the GOP generally emphasizes individualism and de-emphasizes government, while the Democrats emphasize community and look to government for solutions.
     An example of that is seen in their differing approaches to commerce, where Republicans favor a hands-off approach in the belief that markets will sort things out, while Democrats respond to market failures and flaws with laws and regulation. This, too, ebbs and flows, oscillating between more or less government intervention in markets and conduct of business with the coming and going of economic or consumer crises.
     It does take a thinker, and thought, to navigate America’s constantly changing social and economic landscape, which can be compared to a sea that is calm at times, but stormy at other times. You don’t handle a boat the same way in all sea conditions; and you need a knowledgeable and experienced captain who knows what to do in every sea condition to make it across.
     Today, America is not sailing on a placid sea. The coronavirus is a health crisis that brought on an economic crisis, and the combination of the two is triggering a social crisis as Americans grapple with that ever-present conflict between individual freedom and community needs. You see this in the fights over masks and closures. Covid-19 is a real crisis, and laissez faire won’t cut it; this is a situation calls for a captain.
     The objections to Trump are manifold. To begin, he’s a one-trick pony. Trump is a showman and salesman. His instinct is to craft a sales message and then bend reality to fit the message. If the contestants in a beauty pageant aren’t beautiful, he redefines beauty, which saves the show; if Miami is in danger of being submerged because of climate change, he’ll deny the existence of climate change, which preserves Miami’s real estate values long enough to unload condo developments.
     Seen from this perspective, Trump’s method isn’t illogical, it makes perfect sense. To him, messaging is everything, and everyone must fall in line with the message, or they will be shunted aside. The problem is Trump’s bluster and verbal massaging of truth didn’t work to contain Covid-19 or minimize its damage to America. It’s not a problem his approach can deal with; it’s not like selling condos.
     There’s the issue of his qualifications to be president. It’s easy and tempting to compare making Trump president with putting him at the controls of a jetliner or on the bridge of a ship, for which he lacks the requisite training and experience. He’s also temperamentally unsuited for those tasks, because he lacks the concentration and mental focus to make the fine adjustments necessary to land a plane in a crosswind or ease a ship into a berth against a current. But those are the wrong metaphors.
     He’s not a thinker. Leading America requires balancing individualism and community, and sensitivity to the push-and-pull of these forces within society. It’s like walking a tightrope; if you lean too far to one side, you’ll fall off. When the wind blows harder from one side, you must lean more to the other side. He doesn’t adjust to conditions; fixated on individualism, he’s blind to community needs.
     His laissez-faire approach isn’t working. Telling people it’s up to them whether they wear masks won’t bring Covid-19 under control. The pandemic calls for a coordinated community response and sacrifices of individual prerogatives to the greater good. Trump isn’t that kind of leader. He’s incapable of calibrating individual freedom with community needs. He can’t walk the tightrope. And that’s having tragic consequences.
     Trump’s shortcomings, however great, don’t make a case for Biden. What does make the case for Biden is that he leans to the community side. And that’s what America needs right now.

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  1. Biden 2020 #

    Biden has leadership skills to bring together factions of communities and help America heal.

    America needs leadership now. – Biden 2020

  2. Mark Adams #

    Corvid-19 is not the pandemic that for decades has kept epidemiologists awake at night. The 1968 Hong Kong flu was much more deadly, but a war kept going, no American’s were locked up at home, no face masks, no borders shut down. There was encouragement to wash hands, isolate the sick, keep the young and old away from sick. It passed from memory, just a really bad flu year.

    The founding fathers got much more right on the second try of creating a government. I doubt they could have foreseen America being a superpower, and probably would have objected to that, being far more comfortable with being a lighthouse on the hill for the world. To shine the light of a new world onto an old world to inspire. Only they got the French Revolution and were largely disappointed.
    And there were no organized parties in the new Republic, just some guys who called themselves Federalists, and a bit later fellows who called themselves Federalist Democrats. Starting the whole party thing that many framers did not want. Party politics and we have lived up to their poor expectations though it seems to work, and sometimes surprise has been beneficial. And generally the constitution does its job dividing power and making it difficult for any one coalition to govern assuming they want too. So more spam please…some spam in every pot could come in handy…if you are Jewish hide it or trade it with the goyims.

  3. Mark Adams #

    What will Democrats do if Trump wins the popular vote? I think Trump is likely to win, and it will be the popular vote and a sizable electoral result.

  4. Roger Rabbit #

    Award federal grants to universities for studies of the interaction between propaganda and mass delusion.

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