We Need a Different National Conversation

We Americans lurch, amazed, from one unprecedented political spectacle to another. We get all abuzz:

Golly, look at that Trump phenomenon! Never seen anything like it. Imagine a guy talking with such bluster, such as braggart, playing so fast-and-loose with the truth. And all that making him the front-runner for the presidential nomination of one of America's major political parties!

Hey, can you beat this? The Speaker of the House has resigned, and his successor has backed out, and the guy a lot of them want for the job says no. A powerful position, third in line for the presidency, and these people don't want it? That's a first!

These are but the most recent of a whole string of unprecedented political developments in our times. None of them positive.

The list of these developments reads like a political history of our times.

• A president (Geprge W. Bush) who shows a systematic contempt for the rule of law -- unlike anything ever seen before in an American presidency -- as demonstrated by the torture memo and the pardoning of the only member of the administration tried and convicted for crimes committed;

• A major American political party in Congress (the Republicans) making unprecedented use of blackmail, threatening to damage the nation -- by shutting down the government or defaulting on the nation's debt -- if it does not get its way on matters it lacks the legitimate power to achieve;

• A party in opposition (again, the Republicans) making it their top priority to prevent the president from accomplishing anything -- even at a time of crisis -- resulting in a Congress less productive than any we've seen before;

• An opposition party (again, the once-respectable Republican Party) that also sets another record in repealing more than 50 times the President's signature achievement-- fighting against his health care reform completely and without stop, despite the fact that this was something the president ran on and the people voted for, something that he won fair and square in the Congress, something that has been upheld twice by the Supreme Court, and something that for all its imperfections was a reasonable and quite mainstream way of addressing a real problem.

One unprecedented and ugly political development after another. And each "story" gets play in our national conversation.

But we don't talk much about all these pieces fit together, and what they show about the forces at work in our nation.

It's like if you don't understand why volcanic activity and earthquake activity often strike together, you don't really understand the nature of what, beneath the surface, you're dealing with.

Surely a whole series of developments in our nation's power system that are both unprecedented and damaging must indicate that something new and destructive has arisen in the country. And surely that should sound a powerful alarm and become a focus of our national conversation.

If we are going to understand the political crisis of our times, we need to be asking such questions as:

• How does it come to be that such unprecedented and dysfunctional things are happening, one after the other?

• What's going on in the larger national system that there should be so many signs of disturbance and breakdown?

• What does it mean that all these damaging developments are originating in the same part of our body politic?

• What is it that expresses itself in all these ways?

• What would it take to stop and repair the damage?

It is to answer these questions that I have written, and just published, my new book, WHAT WE'RE UP AGAINST: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World--and How We Can Defeat It .
Here's what we need to do:

• be less amazed by each spectacle of dysfunction;

• see more clearly the destructive force, beneath the surface, that is generating these displays of political sickness;

• call out more boldly this seismic threat to the integrity of the American power system; and

• press the battle more passionately against that destructive force to protect what's best about our nation.

To help the effort to get this conversation started, click here.