THE SOAPBOX: This American Tragedy

By Margaret Blanchard

Our current national crisis feels tragic, but unlike classic tragedies, it lacks a flawed hero to embody the psyche of the whole. Instead we have a bully and fool at the center of our media stage. History is full of such “rulers,” from the Emperor with No Clothes to Nero fiddling while Rome, upon his orders, burned, to Bavaria’s Mad King Ludwig and his lavish palaces and debt-ridden finances. While fitting precedents for our current president, they’re not heroes. No, our tragic hero seems more collective in character.  Perhaps the Republican Party? 

A true tragedy, in the classic sense, evokes a “catharsis” of pity and fear, leading to a sense of renewal.  Our current tragedy has evoked fear, without pity. Recently, a friend and I discussed the impossibility of our empathizing with Trump because his meanness and cruel policies make us so angry. She found comfort in Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron’s describing how corrosive anger can be to our own hearts. I found comfort in a video of Heather Heyer’s mother meeting with a young, white supremacist.  Genuine resolution comes from compassion. As Trump unravels, pity might emerge, but empathy remains elusive. 

Maybe the tragic flaw itself is collective. This is not the only American tragedy. The first was Europeans invading and occupying the Americas. Instead of learning from ancient cultures how to live harmoniously with nature, in community, in ceremony, the first settlers “conquered” the first Americans through genocide. Another American tragedy, slavery, then segregation, culminating in the Civil War and Civil Rights, giving us tragic heroes, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. Then there was the Great Depression.  Our next looming catastrophe is environmental.

Every one of these tragedies is rooted in one basic human flaw: greed, which reduces all values (wisdom, people, land, water, air, skill, work, and generosity) to money and profits, leaving the body politic, like King Midas, starving for lack of true nourishment, still waiting for a hero to save us.

Because this villainy is systemic, rooted in the patriarchal system, leaving us obsessed with corruption of, and sabotage by, one deranged millionaire, I believe this “hero” will not be a solo male but a flock of women. 

This potential antidote to national poison is described by Ursula Le Guin in her book of essays, No Time to Spare (2017).  “Without female solidarity,” she says, “human society would not exist, but it remains all but invisible to men, history, and God,” whereas male bonding appears to have shaped most of the formal institutions of society: government, army, priesthood, university, and corporation. As she describes this sisterhood, “it tends to be casual, unformulated, un-hierarchical, ad hoc rather than fixed, flexible rather than rigid, and more collaborative than competitive.” (p.102)

Currently, women are less than 20 percent of the American Congress. That minority must operate within well-established strictures of that traditionally patriarchal and partisan institution. Yet in the 1930s one friendship between two powerful women, Eleanor Roosevelt and Frances Perkins, led to New Deal policies that helped the country recover from the Depression, establishing social policies that fulfilled their shared vision of government for the people.

The solution to our current malaise is not simply to elect a woman president to head up (and be confined by) traditional hierarchy. If more women are elected to national office, as predicted, opportunities for camaraderie will increase. But behind these politicians are alliances of women who’ve experienced solidarity wherever connections are more diverse than usually provided by family ties, wherever exists a spirit of camaraderie and collaboration: from the Girl Scouts to faith communities, from reunions of old friends to quilting circles and book groups, from unions of service workers and teachers to civil rights activists and veterans of the women’s movement—all good sources of strategies for positive change to reduce suffering, heal hearts, enhance lives, and create webs of connection.

So, given growing income disparity, dominance of corporate might, environmental disasters, and cultural divides, I believe a catharsis from our country’s current tragedy can only be experienced through a national healing process powered by the cooperation of women, supported, but not controlled by men.  It’s past time for us to move forward to restore, maybe even improve upon, our country’s deeper values. 

Think of this not as a revolution but akin to the shift in a mobius strip where the inside (women) turns out and the outside (men)  turns in, neither dominant, both on the same side with the same boundary, together in harmony, allowing for differences without discrimination or dominance. Our revolving together could ultimately be liberating for all but those heavily invested in patriarchal capitalism.

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