By Nathaniel Grim
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Ten years ago that obnoxiously superior phrase was uttered in the pilot of what would go on to become one of my favorite TV shows of all time: The Newsroom. Written by Aaron Sorkin, it continues to be a source of great writing and interesting philosophical points, but if anything else it serves me now as the inspiration to write this article. As I’ve grown older, those few words have started to eat into me, and they’ve led me to wonder about a great many things. Things about our country, our government - the role it plays, the role we play, the role it SHOULD play. You know, simple existentialist type stuff. As these thoughts occurred however, I've developed somewhat of an answer, or at least as much of one as a thoroughly uninformed grad-student can have.
Fear. People, like all living things, respond to fear - fear of death, fear of hunger, fear of violence. The fear of being alone in a vast, cruel, and otherwise terribly unforgiving world. It is a great and terrible motivator to be afraid. And yet, it seems as though Americans have been afraid for as long as I can remember. I was born in 1998, old enough to just have a memory of what 9/11 was like. But having grown up in the country it shaped, I'm not sure if having a memory of what it was like before is a gift or a curse. Prior to 9/11, America was in essence, no different than it is now. We suffered attacks from powers foreign and domestic, we lost people in wars, some justified and some not, and we argued those justifications just as we do now, fresh over the graves of those who died fighting them. And yet, even in the midst of all of that, Americans didn’t seem afraid. At least it seemed that way.
Maybe that's an anachronism of history, maybe it's just naïve to think it didn't used to be this hard on the part of an author who is admittedly, sorely out of touch with his generation. But at any rate, it seems all Americans are able to do now is react to fear. Fear drives prejudice, it drives anger, it kills. What I fear however isn’t my fellow Americans. More than anything, I fear the collapse of this country from the apathy induced by this fear we all seem to know. I would argue acceptance was the way to counter that, but acceptance has never been a historical American value. A country composed of immigrants from the start, unrest and violence have, depending on what shade human you are, likely been a constant. And yet, there is one thing that can fix us, and has in the past, that being a sense of community. It's why I brought up 9/11 earlier, not because it was a horrifying geopolitical event, but because it serves as both the strike that split us and our last best chance to reconnect.
Anyone who lived through 9/11 will always say 9/12 was America at its best. People, some having never met, in difference of ideology and opinion, in lifestyles so far apart they can't even be described, were united in mourning as Americans. As a national community we came together and faced what is still an unspeakable trauma. But just as quickly as we united, we fell to pieces over differences of opinion. If I haven’t made a thesis in this article yet, let me do so now. We sit, as humans always have, at a crossroads in history. To save this country for future generations, we have to make a choice. We must learn to compromise again, lest we let the extremes of this nation tear it apart. To accomplish this, we have to relearn some ideals. Ideals like my neighbors are not threats and my thoughts, while conceived with good intentions, are not infallible.
Most importantly, we have to learn our ideological opponents are not caricatures of their beliefs and most assuredly not enemies. Larry David once said “A good compromise is when both parties are unhappy”, and I think the key to everything I've talked about is hidden in that sentence. Fanaticism, dogmatism, and extremism gets a society nowhere, and so I think it's time to start leaving the table a little unhappy. I think it's time to pick up those ideas spoken of earlier and truly commit to them. I think we as a people should do it, and we should do it now. We should do it for our values, we should do it for any reason we want, but most of all, we should do it so that history students 500 years from now don't write about the collapse of the world's longest democracy, they go visit White House and see that it still stands. We aren’t the greatest country in the world anymore, honestly I don't know if we ever were, but if we take up the cause as I’ve written it, maybe we can be.
Nathaniel Grim is a Master of International Affairs student here at GPS.
Nate was born in Davis, California in 1998, but spent the better part of 10 years growing up in the wonderful town of Los Alamos, New Mexico. In 2011, Nate returned to San Ramon, California where he completed his associates, and then returned to New Mexico once again to continue his undergraduate degree before finally changing it up and landing at UCSD.