What’s It Take To Unstick a Dysfunctional Congress?

Cecile Pineda
6 min readFeb 4, 2022

Supposing you were a U.S. congress person. And supposing you were raking in the pay offs from things like private prisons and weapons-manufacturing corporations to stay in office. And supposing the scene was just so juicy, you had to stay in office to make sure it lasted. Why, you’d keep on raking it in from all those corporations manufacturing bullets, shells, bombs, drones, war planes, submarines, tanks, and nuclear tipped ordnance, and piling up dough to get re-elected.

But supposing all your people, blue and red, just got fed up with your suits and your faces. Supposing some figured out that you were just greedy butcher puppets, while others resented being left out while other folks who-don’t-look-like-you keep getting ahead. But ALL of them got tired of hearing you say the same old things over and over while twiddling your thumbs. Now if you wanted to stay in office, wouldn’t you want to make sure the red and blue people never talked to one another, or traded ideas, or discovered that the ONE THING they couldn’t stand was your suits and your faces? You’d put up a fence to separate them, and call that fence polarization, but no matter how “polarized” you made sure to call them, over 50% of those people don’t trust you any more. And why should they? although 84% to 89% wanted background checks, 70%-73% wanted paid family leave, and 83% wanted Medicare to be able to negotiate drug prices, you ignored them because you were too busy raising boodle 80% of the time.

To imagine that the Senate majority is Democratic is pure illusion. The Senate majority vote makes sure to doom any chance of addressing the U.S. dizzying decline in quality of life. The U.S. has not revised its treatment of immigrants, not even those asking for asylum. U.S. deaths from COVID far exceed that of any other industrialized country. Of all these industrialized countries, the U.S. is the only one still lacking universal healthcare. Even progressive California has had to shelve its plans for CalCARE because there just aren’t enough votes for it.

Can these omissions point to something far more sinister? If we make the connection here we find a disturbing pattern. Those most vulnerable to death-by COVID are those who lack healthcare, and who are forced to work during a pandemic, often without protections. That demography is made up of the poor, mostly black and brown minorities and when they vote, notice how this group does not vote Republican. The big question we must ask ourselves here: is this apparent lack of healthcare, and of a humane approach to immigration, actual policy? And is that policy supporting genocide-by-default?

As someone deeply distressed seeing the poverty and desperation of so many living around me, there’s no doubt in my mind that no matter what their political beliefs, too many American’s are entitled to their own deep feelings of helplessness. Frances Moore Lappé writing in a Portside article titled “Is all this ‘Polarization’ a cause or a symptom,” cautions us not to blame society for its polarization because it “skirts the truth that many (most) Americans live in daily distress, especially those “living from paycheck to paycheck because it fuels their fear and distrust of government.” Polarization is “the result of a system guaranteeing the extreme accumulation of wealth, along with deepening daily insecurities and indignities for the non-wealthy.” She points to this economic unfairness as the root of poor Whites feeling “left behind.” For a vivid account of those left behind, I recommend Strangers Living in their own Land, Arlie Hochschild’s study of poor folks living in LA’s “cancer alley.”

Historically, that feeling stems from the mighty expectations Americans learned to entertain in the FDR years when they began to see government as a real safety net capable of leading their lives out of a Great Depression. Now the Depression we have is far far worse than 1929 because besides being the outcome of vast economic inequities, it is compounded by a pandemic with no end in sight, a congress that has never wanted folks to benefit from a national health scheme and total absence of a caring government. The list is as vast as society itself, from endless wars, suppression of voting rights, to the cruelties of the border, to the NRC knowing there’s no way of safely storing nuclear waste with a half life of half a million years.

Lappé writes “When our people suffer widespread economic insecurity due to the extreme unfairness of our economy and legalized corruption built into our governance — along with media profiting on inflammatory content — widespread despair, anger, and a need to punish become understandable.”

Purpling, a new verb

We must begin to purple, to find ways of talking to one another, of mixing red and blue, finding that pathway away from punishment to the kind of solidarity that comes from recognizing that that old “divide and conquer” trope used by those presuming to rule over us is at work again, especially since our government doesn’t seem to be listening. How many small conversations between blue and red, how much purpling will it take to turn the monumentally creaky, leaking “ship of state” around, slowly, increment by increment. Who will have the imagination to begin? And what does it take to reach that shared moment of “Oh, yes, wait a minute…..Where have we heard that one before….?” Purpling has the potential of a creating better life quality for everyone.

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