Tuesday, July 11, 2023

#192 / Two Articles



Two different articles in the July 2, 2023, edition of The New York Times made an impression on me. The first article was a column titled, "The Coalition of the Distrustful." The column was written by Michelle Goldberg, and assessed the candidacy of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who is running for president as a Democrat. That is Kennedy who is striking such a dramatic pose in that first picture, above.
The second picture I have reproduced was associated with an article titled, "To Foreign Policy Veteran, the Real Danger Is at Home." Pictured is Richard N. Haass, who has just stepped down after two decades running the Council on Foreign Relations. This group, says The Times, is "America's most storied private organization focused on international affairs." 

One phrase in the article on Haass forcefully struck me when I read it: 
... the unraveling of the American political system ...
Haass, who served in the State Department under former President George W. Bush, was asked by Peter Baker, The Times' reporter who interviewed him for the article, what Haass thought was "the most serious danger to the security of the world, right now." 
"It's us," said Haass, indicating that the danger he was talking about came from that "unraveling" of our political system that Haass believes is so clearly discernible: 

Instead of being the most reliable anchor in a volatile world, the United States has become the most profound source of instability and an uncertain exemplar of democracy.... Our domestic political situation is one only one that others don't want to emulate... I also think that it's introduced a degree of unpredictability and a lack of reliability that's really poisonous...."
Our political system, of course, is different from our contemporary political situation. I would agree that there is a lot to worry about with respect to our political "situation," but is it really true that our political "system" is "unraveling?" It is my contention that our "system" is in peril only if we give up on it.
Haass has written a book called The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens, which I have mentioned before. When Haass talks about the "unraveling" of our political "system," he means that citizens are no longer meeting their obligations, as he sees them. Those obligations include a requirement that citizens "be informed," and "remain civil," and "put country first." For Haass, our failure to fulfill these fundamental obligations of citizenship is what could cause our political system to "unravel." 

The article on Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and his campaign for the presidency, documents exactly what Haass is claiming. From the liberal "left" to the far right, a significant share of the citizenry distrusts those who have ideas different from their own, and both sides reject, specifically, the idea that we all have an obligation to "remain civil." 
Kennedy doesn't directly urge us towards the "distrust" that The Times correctly identifies in his candidacy, but Kennedy's candidacy is premised on the idea that we cannot trust our government. Where things have not gone well, Kennedy sees "conspiracies," not mistakes. For me, this is a very good reason not to promote or support the Kennedy campaign. In essence, Kennedy is saying the same thing that Donald J. Trump has said, in advancing Trump's own campaigns: our government is corrupt, and fundamentally untrustworthy, and "I alone can fix it."
I have quoted Bob Dylan before on this topic (and, in fact, more than once). Let me quote him again. I think it is imperative that we not decide that our failures of political incivility, and our other political failures, indicate that there is some fundamental failure in our political system. Both Haass and Kennedy seem to be singing the same song about that (our political "system" has unraveled, or is "unraveling"). 
I continue to think that Bob Dylan gets it right. We need to follow his advice, individually and collectively, and not give up on our system of democratic self-government. Instead of doing that, we need to get involved, ourselves.

Trust yourself
Trust yourself to do the things that only you know best
Trust yourself
Trust yourself to do what’s right and not be second-guessed
Don’t trust me to show you beauty
When beauty may only turn to rust
If you need somebody you can trust, trust yourself
 Bob Dylan, Trust Yourself

(1) - https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/30/opinion/robert-f-kennedy-jr-coalition-supporters.html
(2) - https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/01/us/politics/richard-haass-biden-trump-foreign-policy.html

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