How you feel about yourself can have a real impact on your country. Everything connects. Your personal psychology affects your group psychology after all. Some psychologists call it the Starbucks factor.
It goes like this: some mornings your barista at Starbucks is chatty and friendly, which in turn draws you out, which is obviously a good thing, but sometimes they can be taciturn and abrupt, which can steer you off course too, which can then have the opposite effect on how your morning progresses.
These things may seem small but they matter. That's the Starbucks factor. That's why baristas are carefully trained to ask you how you are doing. They are even taught to learn your first name. Humans are profoundly social creatures you see, they look to each other for cues and connection.
So if you are told, over and over and over, that there is nothing you can do about persistent problems, that your opinion won't change a thing, that your voice isn't being heard and it doesn't matter, it can begin to have profound consequences for you and for your society too. You might not even notice the damage being done to you at first.
In America, you are being told, after every new outrageous mass shooting here, that you don't matter. Not individually, nor as a nation either, because your protesting voice is simply not being heard. Your demand for change is going unheeded. So what happens to a person and to a country when no one wants to listen to you anymore? What can of harm does that do to the individual and the rule of law?
History provides us with some clues. When the rulings classes decide that it is neither profitable or productive to listen to their own constituents they tend to bunker down into inflexible political orthodoxy. They can become unavailable for questions. Their own views start to become like articles of religious faith rather than political considerations. If you ask them to explain themselves they become outraged, they begin to act like the very idea of a discussion is a kind of surrender and even a blasphemy.
And when ordinary constituents decide they are not being listened to they can become nihilistic. If their voices don't matter they can be drawn toward figures who will say or do what in normal times would be considered far too extreme.
They start to elevate ranting demagogues who speak so violently they can't be ignored. It's the reflex of the powerless striking back at the powerful in the only way they think they can. They mistake a grenade for a life jacket.
America is in a longtime crisis of growing political indifference. Most of our leaders no longer listen to the people, our federal laws are mostly unaffected by our personal views, our national unity is being bent to the point of snapping by our growing refusal to even listen to each other. We are told that we must live with the constant threat of gun violence, literally everywhere we go from school to work because it's the price we pay for freedom. Freedom?
Again, humans are social creatures, when communication breaks down society breaks down with it. So we now have a president who reflects our own age.
Donald Trump does not listen to or even trust his own intelligence agencies, he cruelly taunts gun safety activists on Twitter, he carelessly tears up the long-standing international treaties that have protected our global prosperity and peace, he skips almost every solemn opportunity to honor our war dead, he instead calls for walls and travel bans, he fires every political advisor who brings him bad news or tries to check his authoritarian impulses, his better judgment is ceaselessly overruled by his own anger and pettiness. We have a president who can not bear to listen to others, he is the image of our own age.
That's how much trouble we are in. That's the measure of where we are going as a nation. That's the measure of who we have become as a nation. We think we can fix our conflicts by the blunt refusal to even debate them. Our growing resentment has elevated leaders who have their own vast fortunes, not our national interests, at heart.
There's a word historians use to describe a state of raw hostility, a blunt opposition between opposing forces that refuse to debate each other. It's not a nice word. It's the measure of how dangerous the times in which we live are becoming.
It's the word historians use to describe the complete and total breakdown of communication between people who have decided their aims are irreconcilable and can not and must not ever be debated. It is clear now that Donald Trump is just hours away from saying this word. We must pray that he never does.