Well, I have told the NY TIMES and the post office to hold my paper and mail, I have alerted my credit card company that I am going abroad, and my Brussels talk is prepared, so a week from today I can fly off to Paris. Later today, I should like to write about two subjects I have been turning over in my mind during my morning walks, one of which is clear in my mind, the other of which is quite murky. But first, an observation about the supposed tribalization of American political discourse.
As I watch cable news discussions, I sometimes wonder idly what I would say if I were invited to be a guest on one of them, but I realize after a bit that it would be hopeless. I would feel like a modern astrophysicist invited to engage in a discussion with a group of Ptolemaic astronomers having a vigorous debate about the precise arrangement of the epicyclic structure of the heavens. This morning on Morning Joe the discussion centered on Trump's disastrous undermining of America's leadership of the Free World. Had I been at the table, I would have raised doubts about the phrase "the Free World" and the others would have looked at me uncomprehendingly and continued with their discussion. Then, as actually happened, Mike Barnacle would deliver a moving speech about the American Experiment, and when I called that phrase into question, I would have been politely but firmly removed from the table during the next commercial break.
Any useful discussion rests on a set of background or foundational shared understandings about the world. You can only call those assumptions into question so many times before everyone else gets exasperated and tells you to shut up. So, if you are a Copernican in astronomy, you start talking only to other Copernicans, because it is exhausting and fruitless to keep saying, "But the sun does not revolve around the earth." And if you are like me, your eyes glaze over when yet again someone refers in passing to the obvious and unquestionable fact that America is the Leader of the Free World. Oh, I try, I really try, but you cannot get supposedly serious people to think openly about a set of world-defining assumptions that shape every moment of their deep engagement with the surfaces of American public life. Nothing short of a Pauline conversion on the road to Damascus is called for, and an argument, no matter how powerful, is not likely to trigger such a bouleversement.
Phooey. I am going to trim my beard. I will be back later.