Morris: Civil Reality Has Been Lost
by Leo Morris
I think there are two Americas.
But the two I see are not the two a lot of people seem to be obsessing about these days. I experience one America through the fevered rantings of politicians and their media co-conspirators, and it seems so vivid I sometimes forget it is the fake one. I live in the other one, the real America, and sometimes I forget that, too.
I recently put an app on my portable devices called Nextdoor, through which I can check out what my neighbors are doing and saying.
I learned about it from my sister, who is signed in to the Nextdoor account for her neighborhood in Indianapolis. She has used it to hire a recommended landscaper and someone to power wash her siding, to buy a hutch and check out an unwanted cat, which she ended up feeling guilty about not taking. She also noticed reports of break-ins getting closer to her house and decided to spring for an alarm system.
That all sounded useful to me, much more so than the so-called news from the professional press, which has seemed less and less relevant to my daily life.
Fort Wayne’s Nextdoor covers my neighborhood and “35 nearby” ones, which means it takes in most of the city.
I checked out the postings from the last month or so and found just two entries about national politics — two angry rants apropos of nothing in particular. Not bad, considering there are scores of posts covering things like:
Reports of lost dogs. Requests for recommendations about roofers and kitchen remodelers. An account of a car being vandalized, and one about a hit-and-run. Back around Halloween, there seem to have been a rash of pumpkin vandalisms. There are plenty of comments about area schools. And lots of complaints – lots and lots – about the new trash pickup contractor. The city might think it has a handle on that problem, but I can tell you it has a long way to go.
Just the ordinary concerns of ordinary people living ordinary lives, more worried about crime the next block over than who holds the balance of power in Washington. It’s what newspaper editors used to sneeringly call “chicken dinner news,” published only in weekly and small daily rags, never touched by sophisticated, respectable periodicals of any decent size.
It’s the same kind of things we talk about in our real-world interactions, waitress to diner, clerk to shopper, barbershop patrons to each other, friends and neighbors and family members among themselves.
And what don’t we hear so much? Ravings about that “fascist” Donald Trump or his loony socialist opponents. Apocalyptic warnings about dangers to the American way of life. Furious threats and recriminations against people so stupid they voted the wrong way.
It’s not that people outside that fake-America bubble don’t care about politics. They do. They even believe, many of them, that one side or the other in Washington is terribly wrong, even dangerous, and they can argue passionately about it.
But then they move on to other things, the way they always have. Politics is a part of their lives, but only one part. They are not consumed by it every hour of every day. That “most important election of our lifetimes” we just had? Americans voted for a split government, just to keep the knuckleheads in line, just like they almost always have. (Perhaps, like hundred-year storms, they might need to be renamed if they come around every decade, “most important election ever” can’t be every single one of them.)
Perhaps I am being naïve. Maybe the great divide is leading us to a new civil war, and I just can’t see it.
But maybe it is just inside the heads of those who can’t get out of the fake-America bubble. I have been in that bubble. Over a lifetime of writing about politics, I have felt the fever. You’ll never give an inch, so I dare not. It is hot-pepper tantalizing to taste buds used to a bland diet.
At times I worry that we will let the fever infect us, really and truly drag us into a confrontation we can’t back away from.
But I also think it might be our job to try to tame the fever mongers, make them stop to occasionally take a breath and appreciate the beauty of the ordinary.
Can we make America real again?
Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is this year’s winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.