June 7th is our California Primary. I’ll keep reminding you…just in case. The debate centers on homelessness and the housing shortage, drought and climate change, crime and the reform of the prison system, racial and economic inequity, mental health and drug addiction: each a nightmare that haunts the California Dream. In the weeks to come, I will address these daunting challenges from the perspective of the American Solidarity Party. I am proud to be its gubernatorial candidate.
But in this debut post I address another matter: the duty of civic friendship. Its violation is an underlying issue that affects each of our particular problems. The first violation to consider is political pandering. For the most part, our political leaders and wannabes (the voluble 1%) speak as if the rest of us (the misled 99%) are pretty much fine folk whose pie awaits them, not in the sky, but in new and improved political representation. It’s the “I’m great, and you are all above average” con.
Well, are we all at least above average? Or do many of us have a hand in causing the housing shortage which in turn contributes to homelessness? Or do many of us participate in the consumerism that accelerates climate change? And how many of us at the end of the day and maybe even its beginning, want criminals, addicts, and the mentally ill to be (somehow) out of sight and thus out of mind? And how many of us are racially self-segregating and economically avaricious?
I’ve posed five questions. We can agree that the answer to the first (remember the joke about Lake Woebegone?) is “of course not.” And I’d say that the answer to each of the other four is, “far too many of us, and I’m often one of them.” But most politicians and their crews will say that there’s no room for naysayers. Happy days are here to come—if we send them money to “get the message out” to the good folks waiting to hear it.
There’s also a second violation of civic friendship to consider. It is identity laundering. Something horrific happens: a school shooting, a hate based or sexual assault, grand scale embezzlement, reckless marketing of opioids or firearms, a church burning. Now suppose it happens again (as it does). Then comes a scripted appeal, from a political leader in high place, who tells us in somber tones, “These must end. This is not who we are.” Yes and no. Most of us are not public horrors. But many of us, in unthinking ways, have accepted what has become a culture of death. It is a culture that mainstream politics studiously ignores and California now celebrates.
But how are political pandering and identity laundering violations of civic friendship? The short answer is that friends tell each other the truth. Civic friendship calls for truth-telling in the public sector. It is a great tragedy that in public life today we have come to expect mendacity. There can be no friendship unless we tell the truth. There can be no commonweal unless we insist on the truth. We need a Politics of Conversion.