Liberal Blogger Day on the Hill

Well, more like Liberal Blogger Afternoon on the Hill, but fine. Two things were said that tickled the shit out of me. One, Mike Turner remarked on my lack of cussing! He said, “You write how I talk, but you talk how I write. I haven’t heard you cuss once today!” Shoot. But when I was telling the story to the Butcher, he said, “That guy should hang around you when you’re trying to tell a story to Mom and Dad. You’re always saying ‘fuck’ around them and it’s embarrassing.”

So, there you go. I habitually cuss online and in front of my parents.

The second was when Addison Pate was rattling off a list of ways that conservatives see government and, in his list, he said “government as sin.” Folks, I have no idea if this is a real political theory or just something he said when he got caught up in his list, but it blew my fucking mind. I can’t wrap my head around it quite yet, but it felt so true that it shook me. I feel like I understand something now about Tennessee conservatives that I didn’t before and I have to give it some time to mull over.

The third thing that tickled me was that Mike Turner has, in his office, this piece of art that I now totally covet. It was a big distressed red square. Along the bottom, down one side, it said, “Absolutely.” Across the bottom it said, “Absolute power corrupts” and along the other said it said “Absolutely.”

In the middle were similar words (though I can’t remember for sure) and “let them eat cake.”

It warmed my heart to see something like that where a dude would see it every day and be reminded.

Us v. Them

The trouble with the Us v. Them format that’s taking over as the narrative structure through which we’re going to understand the flood is that, practically seconds after the dynamic is in place, the purity tests start.

“Us” is a finite group, right? It’s the people who have suffered and whose suffering was ignored by “them.” A week ago, that was all of us here. Now, Tiny Pasture is arguing that “them” is folks in especially New York. If you “ignored” the tragedy, then you’re a “them,” even if “ignore” means “didn’t know.” Of course, for some reason, the people in Arkansas who didn’t know or the people in Utah who didn’t know aren’t ignoring us and the people in LA ans New York who do know and who are doing stuff don’t count.

And folks have already been threatened with “them” status if they do things like go to the Steeplechase or wash their cars or don’t go out every day to volunteer in the right ways.

The trouble with Us v. Them is that “us’ becomes smaller and smaller based on who you want to put your anger on. Okay, so you lost your house, but she lost her house and she doesn’t have insurance. Okay, she lost her house and she doesn’t have insurance, but he lost his house and he doesn’t have insurance because his insurance agent told him he couldn’t get it because he was in a flood plain. Yeah, well, his grandma died in the flood. Oh, yeah, well, his grandma died in the flood and he lost his house and and no one gives a shit because he lives in Pegram so he can’t even be a part of “We are Nashville,” and did he mention, no one came to help him tear out his house, unlike “them.”

And there you have it. “Us” is now the homeless, jobless, insurance-less, grandma-less guy in Pegram no one helped. And the rest of us are those fuckers, “them.”

Listen, when people get the feeling that any help they give, no matter how much, is not enough, they will stop giving help. You will get your wish for “the rest of the country” to just ignore you.  But let’s be honest with each other about how large “the rest of the country” gets when we assign ourselves the jobs of judging whether people have done enough to get to be considered one of “us.”

So, that’s the thing–your choices are not “perfect help that heals all our wounds from everyone who pours out the perfect amount of love” or “them.” It’s “help from imperfect, messy, fucked-up people who can only get you imperfect, messy, fucked-up help” or “none.” And believe me, the large the criticisms seem of the imperfect people who want to help you, the less help you’re going to get.

This, frankly, is one of the reasons I believe so firmly in federal management of disaster relief. People are rightly grieving and angry. They are rightly going to feel like they’re not getting enough or the right kinds of help. Better for them to be mad at a large impersonal bureaucracy than to be taking their anger and grief out on their neighbors.

At the end of the day, FEMA leaves. The “you didn’t do enough” feelings directed at people whose personal contributions you don’t know? Those fester.