Some force from a center began to whirl us outward. I do not know where it started — perhaps with FDR and the New Deal. Maybe with the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Maybe it goes back and farther back to our origins, to a flaw in the Constitution, and all this time has been picking up speed and expanding from the core. Our political systems and their ability to function feel strung along a rope and slipping toward its frayed end now being whipped around so fast it feels dangerous.
Look out at what we face — in Pennsylvania, a legislature at war with itself and the executive — Senate against House against Governor. In Washington listen to the words conservative and liberal being used like stilettos, the close-up weapon, the weapon of the shadows where rumor, innuendo, and conspiracy theories are rampant, where everyone who is not a friend is an enemy, that most perilous word in a democracy, a system built on collaboration, deal-making, our special genius for compromise. Who makes deals with blood enemies when to do so makes the negotiator into an enemy too?
What use do the words conservative and liberal any longer serve except to further draw blood-lines, obscure facts, place us all in small boxes to be lugged about by powerful interests when elections come. On niche web-sites, on talk radio, on Morning Joe and Fox News, those words are used to shut down thought, to isolate people, to make it easier to destroy ideas and policies without having to examine them.
This is one way that the speed increases of our coming apart — we walk ourselves into the boxes made for us by others.
Am I conservative because I think abortion is a dreadful choice or liberal because I do not want a state, in the person of often misogynistic legislators, determining what any women (or couple) should choose in circumstances so private and complicated? Am I liberal because I want to conserve land, preserve wilderness, save habitat, save wolves or conservative because to conserve means to not waste but to keep intact and use sparingly, to be frugal and not wasteful? Am I liberal because I despise torture or conservative because my first impulse of action with those who abuse children, women and animals is to wish for them to be hung up by their nuts? Am I conservative because I would immediately dismantle the Federal Education Department or liberal because I believe democracy works best when it is local, in this instance with school boards? Am I conservative because I honor the Marine Corp or liberal because to sacrifice for others is one of the highest virtues?
Human beings are contradictory by nature. Except for fanatics and sociopaths, we do not subscribe to single-track beliefs and ethics. Our choices are too complicated, the world too full of gray. Political labels used as clubs are only meant to bring us into line, to stuff us into boxes, to fasten us to the rope.
In the public, political sphere, this awful thing is happening though. We all feel the gravitational pull close to the end of the rope as if any deep, sudden shock or wild shift could unloose everything and whirl us into darkness.