Are We Still the Good Guys?

Good Against Bad
Image by michael.heiss via Flickr

“Mommy, guess what? Did you know this bracelet was MADE IN CHINA?”

I turned around and saw Alex in the back seat of the van, holding up the rubber wristband that serves as admission ticket to Annheuser Busch’s Clydesdale breeding farm, which we had just left.

“I didn’t know, but I’m not surprised,” I told him.

The ensuing conversation, about why it’s cheaper to make things in China, led directly to questions of power and abuse of power by those entrusted with the governance (and by the same token, the care) of their people. In short order my insides were roiling. Because I could hear the words I wasn’t actually saying aloud: We’re the Good Guys, and they are the Bad Guys. And for the first time in my life, the sentiment rang incredibly false. On the heels of the debt ceiling debacle, I find myself wondering: Can we really claim to be the good guys anymore?

Ever since 9/11, people have been raked over the coals for asking this question. I’ve never doubted anyone’s patriotism, but I have shaken my head when people suggest that America is on the decline—that we are truly the decadent West we’ve been accused of. Like many others, I’ve always considered that no matter how bad it gets, we still have the best system in the world. It’s not perfect, but there just isn’t a better way out there, and after all, if we don’t like the way things are being run, we have the power to change them.

And there’s the rub. Because I no longer believe that’s true.

We have free speech, but by and large, those in power don’t care what we say. How many of us have written to our Congressmen and Senators to tell them what we expect of them, and gotten back a canned manifesto declaring the party line, without even a token “thanks for your opinion; I’ll take it into consideration”?

Have you ever tried to effect change in the government via grassroots swell? I have. It’s like emptying the ocean with a thimble. The system is stacked against the ordinary person. You need money, and lots of it, to make a difference. You have to be well-connected to a group of people who are all willing to make heroic sacrifices in their lives to make it happen. (In our case, the problem was that the parents were so overwhelmed by the care of their children, how could they make those sacrifices to get politically involved?). Plus, the polarization of the elected is so complete these days that even when you have an issue that should cross party lines, you’ll find yourself roadblocked by around half the people whose support you are lobbying. (Like this issue, for instance.)

I’m not an expert in anything. I’m just a normal person going about life trying to do the right thing. My mother taught me that on some things, you simply can’t compromise. There are issues that must be defined in black and white; they are matters of morality, and to compromise would violate morality.

But there aren’t as many of those as our politicians think there are. And the budget is not one of them. If our system has become so inept that an issue like deficit spending has been defined as a moral issue on which compromise is unacceptable, then as far as I am concerned, we have sacrificed the moral high ground.