Several years ago, I read an interesting take on the purpose of marriage. It has stuck with me ever since. I wish I could find the original, but my ex-wife took it in the divorce. Here’s the gist:
Marriage isn’t meant to make you happy, it just makes you married. Being happy is your responsibility. But from the foundation of a good and stable relationship, you can seek your personal happiness instead of spending your energy seeking a mate.
It’s no one else’s responsibility to make you happy. No one can “make” another person happy. Your mate might make you happier. But in the end, your emotional state isn’t your partner’s responsibility. It’s yours. And it’s likewise not your partner’s fault if you’re miserable. Of course, it may not be yours, either. But your emotional state is still your responsibility, and yours alone.
Remember, I’m talking about “good and stable” relationships. But even in awful relationships, you are still responsible for your own emotional well-being…up to and including fixing (or leaving) your crappy relationship.
Use your relationship as a stable home base while you swim around to find out what’s actually missing in your life. But if your home base isn’t stable, fix that first. Or find a new home base.
Onward to politics. What, you thought I was just going to give you unsolicited life advice? Ha!
I just finished Trumpocracy by David Frum. It’s an interesting book. Mr. Frum looks at the Cheeto-in-Chief’s antics from a principled, conservative, intellectual point of view.
David Frum, an alumnus of the George W. Bush administration, voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. He saw his choices as such:
- Option 1: Vote for a candidate with whom I disagree on most issues, but whom I trust will live within the Constitution and protect the institutions of government; or
- Option 2: Vote for a candidate who will many enact policies I like (tax reform, privatization, etc.), but who disregards Constitutional guardrails and will torch any institution or norm that gets in his way.
He picked Option 1.
His rationale: preservation of democratic institutions would maintain the overarching status quo and give him a chance to vote for a better ideological candidate in the future. In this odd situation, voting for a constitution-respecting “liberal” was actually the conservative choice. To vote for a “conservative” who would erode checks, balances, norms, and institutions, was actually anything but conservative. In fact, it would have been a radical choice.
As the author spells out, a constitutional democratic republic like the United States is slow-moving, orderly (even in its unique disorder), and honestly, a little boring. It’s especially so when you compare it to authoritarian regimes.
In America, there’s no king or shah or czar who can speak into the darkness and create change. Change takes hundreds of people (each of whom represents hundreds of thousands of people) agreeing with one another…and often even that is not enough.
As frustrating as that is, the slow, gridlocked nature of our brand of democracy is precisely the foundation from which everything else in our society grows. The strength that made the United States the “shining city on a hill” is our boring, calculated predictability.
Businesses know that laws will be roughly the same 10 years from now as they are today. Sure, there’ll be some changes. But entrepreneurs and CEO’s can safely risk their companies’ capital on growth. They roll the dice without the fear that Saddam will appoint Uday and Qusay to change the rules mid-game.
I can write funny, mean-spirited stuff about Dear Leader without being sent off for 15 years of hard labor. And you can read my stuff without suffering the same fate.
You can buy a house, buy a car, or go to college without worrying our currency will suffer wild inflation at the hands of a petulant, self-serving tyrant.
In other words, in a stable democracy, individuals and businesses can push off from that safe, secure base in search of their own self-fulfillment. They can swim in open water, knowing the current won’t switch and suck them out to sea.
Due to the choices of the collective patronage of Carl’s Jr. our fellow citizens, we’ve eroded the predictability of our stable democracy by placing a “stable genius” in charge. We’re replacing “safe and boring” with “dangerously erratic.” Our political turmoil demands our attention. It derails even our non-political endeavors. It sucks out our energy and spirit, and replaces them with resignation and resentment.
What scares me infinitely more than Stormy’s ex-boyfriend’s idiotic demeanor is the effect it’s having on the predictability of our institutions and norms. The only predictable thing about our present arrangement is its unpredictability.
Every morning, another tweet is coming. Every Friday, someone else is getting fired. A new executive order, drawn up in response to something on Fox and Friends that irked him, is coming. Lawmakers are retiring left and right. Okay, mostly right. Justice Ginsburg is 112 years old and can’t retire without fearing she’ll be replaced by Judge Judy. We don’t have ambassadors in countries where we really need ambassadors. We’re pulling out of agreements with our neighbors. We refuse to stand up for our NATO allies, and we refuse to stand up to our brazen enemy in Moscow.
I’m worried about the chilling effect of this unpredictability on our nation’s entrepreneurs, artists, intellectuals, workers, families, elders, and children. I’m worried that our growth—economic and human—will be stunted as we focus our energy on the suddenly shifty base from which our stability and predictability formerly emanated.
My happiness is still 100% my responsibility, and I’m still happy. But my growth as an entrepreneur and a writer depends significantly on the environment in which I invest and create. It depends on my ability to swim around in open waters, knowing my home base is predictable, safe, and stable.
We can’t exactly choose a new country, nor do most of us want to do that. I’m pretty invested in this relationship with my country, and I don’t give up easily. But this present arrangement isn’t working.
As a wise man once said earlier in this post, “…if your home base isn’t stable, fix that first.”
I propose we put our collective energy into getting our home base stable again.
I say we start with throwing the destabilizing, orange variable out on his ass.