Common Ground in an Uncommon Country

The Fire TrailA blistering heat wave finally broke last night in the Bay Area. The fog rolled in from the vast Pacific Ocean, through the Golden Gate, blanketing the towns along the bay with mercy.

We are fragile creatures, comfortable only in moderate temperatures. We require food and water and protection from weather. We don clothing and build shelters. We wonder about the forecast just as our forebears worried. Will the crops survive? Will we survive? We check news reports to be prepared, to protect ourselves. We know we are not immortal, although we pretend we are.

There are also cultural signs that predict shifts in worldwide threats, such as massive movements of populations to safer shores. There are religious signs that predict changes in mankind’s heart, the rising violence among us, the murder of innocents, the hardening of conscience. These signs are not as clear as weather predictions and many do not see them. But they point to a serious change in the climate of our culture, for those who choose to see.

They point to a climate of indifference. A time of refusal to see the trends and face what they portend. With the loss of faith in a God of loving authority, the ebbing of conscience followed, so that the shores of man’s heart are parched and dry. Right and wrong have become personal choice, momentary whim, relative like Einstein’s theory. Authority is questioned, then its demands abandoned. The individual sets his own course without regard for the unborn or the marginalized. It’s all about me.

I am reading a dystopian novel, 2084, by Henry William Kalweit, set in Paris in that year, a city ruled by extremist Sharia Law. The signs of the takeover of France and Europe had been there, clear markers, but ignored in a desire for inclusivity and diversity. Now, in 2084, sculptures and paintings from the Louvre are dumped into the Seine or set afire. Airlines are long gone; televisions forbidden. Transportation is by foot or cart. Justice is swift and brutal in the sharia court. Christians and Jews hide in the underground maze of sewers to survive. It had been a slow takeover of the European demos, but a steady one – through population decline in one group replaced by an increase in another. The signs were not recognized.

In my recent novel, The Fire Trail (eLectio. 2016), the firebreak in the hills above UC Berkeley serves as a symbol for the border between civilization and the wilderness. Fires have jumped the trail from time to time, devouring neighborhoods. Yet the fire trail above Berkeley also served as a break, a border, a wall that keeps out the wild and untamed, protecting the civil and tamed.

And yet the wild and untamed have indeed invaded the campus this last year, once the home of thoughtful rhetoric and reasoned argument. The first casualty of the invasion was law itself, the authority of the collective voice of the people through their vote. With the rule of law unrecognized and unenforced, no one is safe. Anarchy is close by. We saw this in the Berkeley riots over the winter and spring when invited conservative speakers were bullied into silence by an illiberal Left. But the Berkeley police learned from this violence and were able to subdue the most recent disturbance last month.

Democracy is fragile, just like us. It must be nurtured and safeguarded and fed and housed. As citizens and voters we must learn to recognize the signs of democracy’s weakening in order to protect it. We do so by encouraging civil debate, honoring free speech, and respecting one another. We do so by finding common ground as Americans.

As we approach our national Independence Day celebrations, let us give thanks for our freedom, and for this remarkable country. We fought tyranny before, and we can do it again. But we need to recognize the signs. We need to seek common ground in this uncommon country, America.

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