This is the first holiday season I can remember in which people stood around the Yule log talking about the country going off a cliff. No, wait. That's not the big part. The big part is that some of the people standing around the Yule log want the country try to go off a cliff.
One night a couple days before Christmas, I was ready to run out on the lawn of this place where the party was, cup my hands around my mouth and shout up to the sky, "Better hold off on the sleigh thing."
What is it with this country? Why are there people who actually want to see the country crash? What is with them?
The fiscal cliff is just a talking point. Talk about anything -- foreign policy, Obamacare -- and they start expressing this appetite for darkness. At one party a physician suggested to me that maybe the doctors should all just retire and go do something else.
I thought, "Which doctors? Are you going to recruit all the immigrant docs from India and Korea who see this country as the promised land? Will you be able to persuade them to give up medicine because of the Affordable Care Act? I think not. I hope not." But it wasn't the place to get into it.
This morning I had a long phone chat with a thoughtful friend who was wondering the same things. She asked if I thought it was because all of these older white people woke up one day and saw a much greater minority presence in the daily life of the country. I said yes. I do think that's a lot of it. They want to take their ball and go home.
"But that's crazy," she said. "It's like a 15-year-old."
Yup. But I don't really know. Is it the huge-bucks PAC-money gang making a last-minute push from behind the scenes? Or is that too conspiratorial, maybe even giving them too much credit? Things are at this bizarre moment when none of our cherished assumptions about the country can explain the events in front of our eyes.
She and I agreed on one thing. This is bad. We talked about places where we have worked in our lives, good, bad and ugly. The good places may be crazy and tense and whomperjawed in various ways, but they all have one quality in common -- a strong sense of the good of the ship. We can fight, we can compete, we can even dislike each other personally, but in the end we will all pull together to work for the success of the enterprise.
Those are the places that work, maybe because it just makes sense. That's the kind of attitude that can keep the ship afloat and on course. When you run into real treachery, stealing, lying, extreme laziness and it's all around you, somewhere in the back of your head you start thinking, "This boat is headed for the rocks."
I don't want to think that about this country, and I do not. My friend and I -- a couple of white 60-somethings - talked about how much better America has become during our lives. We can look back on a society that was rigidly compartmentalized by racism, religious and sexual bias, to say nothing of aristocratic privilege, and compare it with the America of today.
It seems to us that the country has made incredible progress and is a much better place today with a hugely expanded sense of human affinity and dignity with wonderful opportunity for people who used to be shut out of the game. We may even be the best place in the world for all of that, although this hardly seems the right moment for triumphalism.
The problem is we're stuck with a really bad element, and it's terribly confusing and off-centering because a lot of them are the same people who always used to be the good element, or at least they thought they were.
We have people with money, position and influence who are hungry to bring this country down. They have no sense of the good of the ship. They're down there in the hold drilling holes in the ship. They're absolutely nuts.
These ought to be good times. We have a whole lot invested in this country. It's going right for so many more people. We can't give up now. We're going to have to find a way to band together against the sink-the-ship gang. Or guess what? The bastards will sink the ship.