1/15/2016—Last Tuesday, in the State of the Union Address, President Obama plaintively said, “Fix Our Politics,” (Or so I read. I don’t watch these things).
I talked about this last night with my students in Philosophy of Law. We probably mostly agree about what’s wrong with our politics now. A long-time Republican wrote in the New York Times this week that he could not vote for his Party’s leading candidate for President and that the leading Democratic candidate was an ethical train wreck. The problem has to do with the kind of people who are running, the spirit that supports them no matter what, and the distrust, even hatred, that prefers paralysis to cooperating with “the other side.” Something along these lines.
Of particular concern to me is the inability to act on global warming, which threatens our children and grandchildren in particular and obvious ways. Once upon a time, we would have been able to act. We did rearm during the 1930’s, after all despite deep divisions over isolationism, for example. (though we helped kill the League of Nations).
But if we could reach some agreement about what is wrong, we cannot agree about what to do about it—how to fix it. President Obama did not offer to be less activist in using executive power where Congress is supposed to lead, for example. Nor did his supporters criticize his gun control initiative on that ground. That would have been a first step.
Instead, the Parties blamed each other. Or, they spoke in generalities—how there is much blame to go around without suggestion.
The call to fix our politics has already disappeared.
What if our problem does not have a fix? I told my students that according to Martin Heidegger, these matters proceed at a deeper level. At the level of stimmung—the German word often translated “mood”, but which better means overall orientation. What I am open to. Fix that. That is not any easier, but it is in a better direction.
Robert Taylor used to ask his students, in what mood do you have to be to study law? I would now answer, a mood of anger and distrust. We need, instead, the kind of openness that once would have been called piety, but which you could call serious, hopeful expectation.
In some ways my least favorite columnist, David Brooks, wrote today that we “accidently” abandoned beauty in our current way of life. But there was nothing accidental about it. We paid a lot of money to abandon beauty. We watched a lot of advertising. Capitalism is not beautiful. Nor is it pious. If you want a better comment about beauty, look at John Rago's comment on this blog from two days ago.