Two days ago, I made a resolution and swore that I would not partake in the absurdity of the State of the Union address. Rather than indulging indignity, I took the occasion to share my story in an attempt to encourage more people to have heartfelt conversations instead of bludgeoning each other with partisan cudgels. After publishing my article, I was determined to not succumb to temptation; I refused to flip on the television and watch the kabuki dance that was poisoning the public airwaves.
I was proud of myself; not only did I not watch the carnival in Congress, I barely talked about it that evening. Alas, my success story ran head first into a wall of speculation and post-game analysis that flooded my social media newsfeed the ensuing morning. One post in general repulsed me to no end, I had a gag reflex induced by a picture of Nancy Pelosi “clapping back and throwing shade” at Trump shared by a friend—my break from fatuous politics lasted less than 12 hours. Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in!
This feeling of distaste—prodded by two political septuagenarians and supposed leaders of “the free world” acting like extras on the Jersey Shore—only magnified throughout the day. I took to Twitter to vent my spleen and waged a relentless campaign against this ongoing disintegration of civility. One tweet led to another; each one more acerbic than the one that preceded it. By the time I arrived home, whatever optimism I stored up as a consequence of writing about my journey from hardship to renewal dissipated. As I reveled in spite, I was unwittingly diminishing my spirit.
This morning, I woke up ready to go all in like a gambler in Vegas—I was itching to loosen a blowtorch and incinerate the entire media-politico complex. I told my wife about my plans and how I was going to take a sledgehammer to Trump, Pelosi, Democrats, Republicans and the pundit class. She listened without judgement and then paused. I was expecting her to join me in the schadenfreude. Instead, she gave me a stern look and asked me what was the purpose of piling on to the very carnival I deplore.
People are eating up "Pelosi clapping back at Trump" or "Trump owning the Democrats" like it's a weird amalgamation of a reality show and a sport, they don't realize that they are the ones getting played by both.
— Teodrose Fikre ✒ (@TeodroseFikre) February 6, 2019
Initially, I was defensive. I told her that these frauds need to be exposed and that there is a place for condemnation in this world. But she persisted and kept asking me questions. What good will come of it? Am I turning into the same windbags I rebuke? Will my writing elevate the discourse or will it only coarsen hearts? Why not use my pen to give people hope instead of putting a spotlight on hopelessness?
The questions came at me by the dozens; my resistance proved more futile than the Maginot Line. I realized by the end that Betty was right; I’ve been told a long time ago that the wisest man is he that listens to his wife. As I drove to work, her counsel kept ringing in my ears and ricocheting in my mind. The article I thought about writing was transmuted by the wisdom of my better half. I decided to write less about the circus and more about us.
My evolution on this topic, nudged by some sage advice, gave me an epiphany of sorts about our broken government and the toxicity of our politics. Though the vast majority of us are victims of unfettered federalism, most of us are also its biggest enablers. Factionalism and political tribalism has made it impossible to create a consensus that could force politicians to change. Instead of uniting to demand better, we are splintering and clawing at each other like crabs in a barrel. The need to be right and win at all costs has reached a pitch fever and overrun both civility and commonsense—our egos are our burden.
It is easy to be mad at politicians and rage against their malpractice, however, maybe it is time for us to look in the mirror.
As I give this advice, I must do as I ask. In truth, I wanted to write an article laced with fire not only to vent my spleen but because I know it would have been widely read. Not too long ago, I realized that the articles I write about politics and my tirades against the sensationalism offered by corporate media are exponentially more popular than the articles I write about the human experience. Compare my write up about my rise from homelessness that I shared on Tuesday to the intense screed I wrote about Cory Booker. The former has less than 250 shares, the latter has over 2.5K shares. I’m not saying I write for effect, my pen is inspired by a lot more than vanity. If my aim was just to garner eyeballs, I would pick an ideological side and speak half-truths to power like Shaun King or Candace Owens.
However, I can not discount that I am susceptible to the same ostentation that has destroyed our supposed “free-press” and co-opted politicians on all sides. The heart is a bedeviling companion; all of us are constantly vacillating between our better angels and our hidden demons. This is not to give moral equivalence between policy makers who intentionally exacerbate inequalities and the rest of us who are forced into compliance. Nonetheless, we should inspect what it is about us that accedes to trespasses and why it is easier to go along with the crowd than it is to challenge malfeasance.
Here is where I am stuck as I deliberate these matters. Is the problem a system of governance, and a social order as a whole, that rewards self-pursuits and greed or is the problem deeper than that? If we loosen the grip that Democrats and Republicans have on power and manage to make one or more parties viable, would that ameliorate injustice? If we overthrow this government and raise a new one in its place—a moral imperative enshrined in the US Declaration of Independence—would that lessen corruption? If we tear down capitalism and replace it with socialism or another ism, would that ensure fairness?
I already know the answer—it won’t. I arrive at this conclusion for the same reason that every revolution devolves into the same tyranny that gave birth to it. The change that we all want is not external but within. As much as we rage against the excesses of our government and protest against injustice, the truth is that our actions and decisions play an integral part in this ongoing train wreck that is taking place in the District of Caligula. I’m not saying that we should bury our heads in the sand nor am I advocating that we stop holding authorities accountable—I still stand by my statement that there is a place for condemnation in this world.
We live in dangerous times; while we are inhaling politics, social inequalities and manufactured sectarianism are cracking the very foundation our nation and the planet as a whole. I am reminded of the second and third class passengers on the Titanic who were lulled into compliance as the band played on. Meanwhile, first class passengers were safely boarding their lifeboats while the proletariat were locked in place to drown. One economic downturn or a military miscalculation could literally mushroom before us. The bread and circus of our politics is meant to distract us from perils ahead and displace accountability in the process.
However, as much as we point to the abuses of the ruling class and the infringements of the establishment, each one of us must look at ourselves. What part are we playing in this kleptocracy that is pawned off on the world as a democracy? How can we demand a better government while we mistreat each other? How can we insist that our leaders grow up if we are not willing to mature ourselves? How can we have equality when our purchasing decisions keep empowering billionaires and ravaging our communities? How can we be upset about the proliferation of childishness when we keep creating a demand for it?
Instead of trying to convince others that we have all the answers, perhaps we should ask ourselves these questions. It’s the harder path to take; grumbling about the ills of the world is infinitely easier than being introspective. It is better, though, to be circumspect and scrutinize our behaviors first or risk fighting our own projections—we become what we fight.Asking ourselves tough questions and being honest with ourselves will lead to the very progress that keeps eluding us. Click To Tweet
The change that we want will not come in a fell swoop but through incremental steps. More importantly, questioning our own intentions leads to self-actualization; if not for my wife questioning me this morning, you would be walking away from this article not with a nugget of wisdom but triggered into furor. That might have been good for increasing share counts and garnering more attention, but it does nothing to elevate public discourse nor does it spur personal growth for the reader or the writer::
“Some look for scapegoats, others look for conspiracies, but this much is clear: violence breeds violence, repression brings retaliation, and only a cleansing of our whole society can remove this sickness from our soul.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy
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Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.