It’s almost impossible to squander a gift from the PR heavens such as the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to President Obama this month, but the United States has, sadly and predictably, done it.
Here we were, with our country’s highest elected official being recognized as an international symbol for peace and hope. Here we were, with an international image and reputation as battered and tattered as it has ever been. And here we were, with the same very loud people who shortly before raucously cheered when Chicago lost its bid for the 2016 Summer Olympic Games because it represented damage to Obama’s image, squawking loudly that Obama did not deserve and even should refuse the award because he “hasn’t accomplished anything.” Keep in mind that these are much the same people who tried to make American flag lapel pins and “USA! USA!” and pledges of unquestioning patriotic virtue mandatory tests of our “American-ness” during the previous administration.
Well, Obama did accomplish something. The prize represents the world effectively saying, “We’ve been feeling rather uneasy about the United States for quite some time, but now we feel a lot better about you. Welcome back to the global community.”
Isn’t that something to celebrate? Isn’t that a reason to put our deep differences as Americans aside for just one day and simply, joyously celebrate being respected world citizens again?
The sad answer is that it isn’t.
America can no longer stay on message.
And America can no longer stay on message because every single aspect of our governance has been politicized to such an extent that it has lost any utilitarian meaning almost entirely.
Starting with the Vietnam War and Watergate, and intensifying through the Carter and Reagan and Clinton and both Bush administrations, our country has become an increasingly binary place. There seem to be only two sides to every issue, with no gray area in between, no nuance. As a result, our game is rigged: There can’t be a positive without a negative. It’s logically impossible.
Talk radio and cable news screamfests have turned our political process into bloodsport, little more than a game where there is never anything but winners and losers. There is no in between. There is no higher calling. The “issues” are merely footballs, thrown around and tossed in the garbage when they are worn out. We all suffer as citizens because of this. There is no longer an “us”. There is just “us versus them”.
Those outlets – Rush Limbaugh, FOX News, MSNBC, Huffington Post – are extremely good at staying on message. But the messages are hollow, mean-spirited, and reactionary – on both sides of the aisle. Unfortunately, the only thing that brings America together now is mutual enmity, choosing sides. There is no collective, universal truth, no common rallying point, no common message, for us all to proclaim as a people. We can’t even agree on what “freedom” and “liberty” mean anymore.
And so it is that the United States cannot simply, modestly accept the honor bestowed upon its president, because there are no timeouts in the pointless and endless grudge-a-thon that both fuels and sickens our society and our entire way of life.
We can’t stay on message because we don’t have one. We can’t enjoy a gigantic PR benefit because there is no longer an American “we”. America has become Coke and Pepsi, the Yankees and the Red Sox, the North and the South, all at the same time. And when did any of those yins ever agree with their respective yangs?
Like Obama, don’t like Obama. Fine. But weep just a little for what our country has become. And try to make it better. And maybe one day we can put all of the bile aside and concentrate on what we have in common.
I’m not holding my breath, but I can hope.
Posted by Joe Paone