One Nation, In Division

Map from The Phantom Tollbooth

Among the many things I have been pondering of late — not that you would know I’ve been pondering anything, due to the numerous posts I have started but not completed — is this notion of unity.

I don’t really mean politically-convenient unity such as that espoused recently by some percentage of congress, completely coincidentally, I’m sure, nearly the same percentage of congress that would like us to move past the part where they asserted a part of the November ballot as illegitimate. The part where their own names were on the ballot was counted correctly, but somehow, mysteriously, the presidential votes were incorrect. But never mind that now: let us have unity!

Perhaps you’ve noticed, but I’m not really of the forgive and forget ilk, and there ought to be accountability for those who aided and abetted seditionists, even if “all” they were doing was furthering their own political careers.

It seems to me unity might be more achievable if people accepted accountability, but I don’t see that happening.

Beyond that, though, I’m wondering how people go about “unity” when their visions are so different. And to illustrate this, I’m going to talk about my extensive television past, which might seem frivolous.

I loved the show M*A*S*H. I probably still do, but it’s not on the air nearly as much as it used to be, and I have watched each episode more than I’ve watched SpongeBob, which is saying something. One of the few times I’ve told an irresponsible lie came in college, when I was supposed to be at a theatre rehearsal but shamelessly invented a job I had to work at in order to sit at home and watch the show’s finale — a two-hour episode that turned out to be a horrible disappointment.

What I never realized about M*A*S*H, though, was its liberal bias. The premise should have clued me in: draftee doctors joking their way through the Korean War. But as the show matured well beyond its book and movie origin, it never sought to denigrate career-Army commander Colonel Potter, nor the rank-and-file serving in Korea, and especially not the wounded. It also offered a deep respect for the religious healer among them, Father Mulcahy, a gentle yet determined man who got all the best lines.

But the show didn’t hesitate to poke fun at military brass, and it certainly never hesitated to call people out for racist behavior. (Sexism was more okay, even if the show’s star, Alan Alda, championed the Equal Rights Amendment.)

When I watched the episodes where a racist got called out and disgraced, it never crossed my mind to see that as anything but a win for righteousness. But as I’ve gone through life, and watched lots of other shows with plotlines where victory is won on behalf of a person of color, or a woman, or a disabled person, or anyone else not of the perfect male WASP specimen, I start wondering about the people who don’t think like me.

If you think, like our Supreme Court does, that it’s okay to disenfranchise voters of color, how do you react when Hawkeye and BJ provide some bullnosed white military officer with his comeuppance?

And when our new president (doesn’t that sound exciting?) promises unity, and he is talking about including people of all kinds (did you see he has included a transgender woman on his Health and Human Services team?), there have to be people — people like my congressional representative, for instance, who makes the news in a nationally embarrassing way on a near-daily basis — who find this disgusting.

So how are we supposed to unify that?

And then I realized that the profound answer can be found in another of my favorites, the book The Phantom Tollbooth. If you’re not familiar with it, you should run right out and buy a copy. (Okay, I know how the world works these days: you will order one from Amazon. At least consider shopping with an independent bookseller, whether you’re on-line or in person.)

In this book, a young boy encounters two brothers, both of them kings, who don’t agree on anything. One of them thinks words are most important; the other is all about his numbers. It isn’t until the young boy sets out to rescue the Princesses Rhyme and Reason that the kingdom can be restored. But to rescue them, he must vanquish a whole lot of demons.

So the answer, then, is not that we seek to sweep an insurrection under some congressional rug because if we apply too much Rhyme and Reason we will see that those who have now convinced roughly a third of the electorate that while their owns races were legitimate, somehow the presidential race was not, are culpable.

No. The answer is that those who think words are important (let’s just call them the liberals) and those who like numbers (conservatives) are where we strive for unity, and the objective of unity is to banish the demons (the deplorables, as Hillary Clinton correctly called them oh so long ago).

Unity does not mean giving 140 representatives and seven senators a pass for their part in inciting a riot. Unity does not mean bypassing accountability for the fomenter in chief, even if he is banished from Washington, D.C. for the rest of his life.

Here are words from a column in today’s Washington Post by Jeff Flake, former senator either recently or about to be censured by the nuts currently in charge of Arizona’s “Republican” party for not being nutty enough to be in the club:

We conservatives succumbed to the very thing that we had once organized ourselves to oppose. We forgot that a healthy mistrust of executive power was supposed to be our most deeply held belief. We forgot that the institutions of American constitutional democracy are sacrosanct and not some twisted “deep state” plot. We aided and abetted this assault on our values and on objective reality itself. We were accessories to this deeply ugly period. We endangered our country.

And so, conservatives six months from now will have embarked on a period of soul-searching. America needs, and Americans deserve, a principled and reliable conservative party. So, to put it mildly, we Republicans have work to do. Trust to regain. And we know it. And when we are honest with ourselves in the dawn of this new era, we are just as relieved as everyone else that the malefactor was turned out, consigned to a rogue’s place in history.

To me, that’s a call to unity right there. Not to ask for agreement that words are far superior to numbers (even though they are), but to agree that both are needed — and the demonic forces are not. Those are to be driven back to the darkest corners, tamped down until hopefully, one day that certainly isn’t tomorrow, extinguished.

I am still waiting for current members of congress to come to this realization and to take a principled stand such as this, even if it gets one censured by a party that has also censured John McCain, his wife (who has never held public office), Mitt Romney and possibly yet the governor of Arizona. That doesn’t leave too many winners in the party down there in Arizona.

We know Jeff Flake isn’t alone, but it’s alarming how many members of congress are reluctant to issue a statement along these lines. Maybe as we move farther the fear of the demons will recede and they will once again seek a place in a kingdom joyous at the return of Rhyme and Reason.

And if they don’t? Well, it falls to Father Mulcahy to answer that: “The trick, I guess, is to just keep moving.”

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