Wednesday, September 30, 2015

My Joint Address to Congress: a Proposal

Outgoing House Speaker John Boehner
Dear Speaker Boehner:

Congratulations on your newfound standing. By formally announcing your retirement from elective office, but retaining the Speakership for yourself, with its attendant responsibilities and authorities, for another month, you’ve become possibly the freest person in Washington today. You still have the ability to control legislative agendas on the House floor, you still control access to the speaker’s rostrum, but you’re forever free from looking to your next election.

You’ve used your five-year Speakership to invite many respected people, American and international, to address Congress, and many have accepted. Some such guests have been acclaimed, like Pope Francis; others have been controversial at best, like Benjamin Netanyahu. Yet you’ve nevertheless used your authority to stimulate debate and kickstart needed discussions at home and abroad. As one who fears the dominion of an unchecked executive over democracy, regardless of the party, I do appreciate an activist legislature.

Therefore, I encourage you to seize your newfound authority to invite someone to speak whom nobody circumscribed by future electoral responsibilities would ever dare invite: Me.

I’m nobody. That’s right. I control nobody else’s fate. I’m neither a head of state nor a corporate CEO, which in these days of multinational gigantism are almost interchangeable. Nobody consults me for religious, ethical, philosophical, or political guidance. This blog, which I’d hoped would be somewhat self-sustaining, has in four years barely netted the price of dinner for two. I sway the economy only inasmuch as I decide, day by day, whether to buy Goo-Goo Clusters or organic bananas.

Yet I’m a highly educated person doing blue-collar work. I straddle the line between two Americas, a substantially progressive, aggressively multi-culti academic nation versus a hard-working, despised, but nevertheless loyal world of conservatives and libertarians. I’ve seen both the offerings and the limitations each way of life offers America. And I’ve seen firsthand why the polarizing divide that reduces Washington to stunning inefficiency doesn’t reflect America whatsoever.

Pope Francis
University liberals notoriously believe that, if poor workers simply enjoyed greater “education,” they’d immediately join the revolution. As though somehow, only massed human stupidity stands between us and demi-Marxist utopia. Meanwhile, professional conservatives notoriously campaign on moral issues which whip voters into high dudgeon, then govern on economic issues that privilege the already privileged. Both sides basically treat Americans as too dim to understand their own affairs.

Meanwhile, I’ve found myself in an environment most outsiders don’t realize exists. Since I started working construction, I’ve been horrified to witness how deeply segregated the workplace is. Not just racially, though that too: we have black brickmasons, white electricians, hispanic machinists, and more. And they’re all completely male: of nearly 100 workers, I’ve seen two women. Though I’ve seen some overlap among populations, it’s mainly isolated clusters.

But no. The real segregation I’ve seen runs much deeper. It’s the complete separation of skill sets into dedicated groups, who seldom communicate, and fight over insignificant patches of territory. Communications happen between crew heads, who regularly get into heated pissing contests, mainly because they control so little that every inch becomes worth dying for. Though I’ve never seen actual fists flying, the language I’ve heard gets pretty cutting, the insults savage.

Remember the scene in Witness, when Harrison Ford joins the Amish community in a barn-raising? We not only behold him internalizing the Amish communal values of work and mutuality, we even see him sip gently off the lemonade and pass it on. I cried; didn’t you? That doesn’t happen in today’s construction environment. We must erect such massively complex buildings so fast, that huge numbers of people never talk, much less share anything.

C'mon, Mister Speaker, you could show this
guy up at his own populist game
We’re building a high school. Certainly, we want schools that enjoy quality appointments, like a good kitchen, up-to-date science laboratories, computer access, and more. But to achieve this result quickly, we’ve fobbed the actual building onto despised people: racial minorities, the poor, and people who, like me, simply bet on bad college majors. We’ve segregated people along lines more powerful, more intractable, than race; we’ve created an entire population of “menial” people for “menial” jobs.

What better opportunity than this, Speaker Boehner, do you have to address this yawning gulf in America today? This isn’t a Republican-Democratic or Conservative-Liberal issue. Rather, it exposes the unintended consequences of today’s culture. We have architects who’ve never driven a nail, laborers who have no autonomy over their labor, contractors who’ve never seen the jobsite. You could help us address this chasm, Mister Speaker, by simply inviting somebody eloquent and experienced to speak.

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