Partha Chakraborty is an Indian-born immigrant; a naturalized US Citizen since 2018. Educated in India and at Cornell University, Partha is currently an entrepreneur in water technologies, Blockchain and wealth management in the US and in India. The views expressed are his own.
There was something different on that golden morning on Jan 20, 2021, something magical in the sunlight, wide and (barely) warming. No, I did not write those words, I merely paraphrased them from a poem by Amanda Gorman, who, at age 22, became the youngest inaugural poet in US history that day. She was also the single biggest discovery, the freshest dew in a new dawn in the land of the Free. Elsewhere (“In This Place (An American Lyric)”) she hails the “poet in every American who rewrites the nation” and who pens “an American lyric we are just beginning to tell”, a narrative “of a nation composed, but not yet completed”.
As we pick up broken pieces of our lives in the post-pandemic (soon enough) and post-Trump era, it behooves us to examine competing narratives of division and derision. It may surprise us that, far away in the spectrum as they seem, they are much closer at their origin, and mirror the same grievances on opposite sides. Regardless its nativity, I will call it “The Entitlement Narrative”. Each side sees members of the other as entitled, thereby not worthy of a listen, and, the cycle of doom builds on itself.
The Right views left as socialists-wannabe to begin with. They are molded by a professional thinking class, nee whining delusional myth-makers who never bothered to a single economic activity that adds value or creates jobs, e.g., make, grow, sell, build or trade. There is a false sense of victimhood in their followers that roughly translates as “everybody but yourself is responsible for your misery”. Much of their victim generation flows through defining nested sub-identities that are supposed to be wronged just because. You burrow deep inside till you discover yourself either as victimizer or victim with nothing in between, think “critical race theory”. Structural economic disparities are not to be overcome with hard labor and pluck, and some luck, but dealt with through redistributions – their way of equating inequality with inequity goes against American doctrine. Their dominant ideas denigrate pursuit of higher standards and rigor, leaving a younger cohort, that is lazy, promiscuous and intellectually incurious, each winner of a participation prize. At the same time, there is a strong cancel culture that throttles dissent, sometimes with an obliging nod of corporations keen to protect their future client base, even if free speech, however abhorrent, is constitutionally protected. Arts and social science departments at universities are oversubscribed with pseudo-intellectuals whose “scholarly work” is nothing but a regurgitation of tired idioms of the intelligentsia bursting with new “isms”, whose “activist” work only looks to dislocate pillars of progress that built America the bold and the beautiful, and victorious against the evils of Axis powers and against communism. They indoctrinate with abandon anybody that walks under fabled arches, many do even if they have no intention of making themselves more productive to the economy and/or genuinely equipped with critical thinking. Some of them come back as “researchers” and teachers, thereby completing a circle of doom.
As the right sees it, the left are entitled and shameless in holding on to the largesse of the state, not asking what they can do for the country, but only what the country has done for them. Their dissonance becomes more transparent, and appalling when they throw epithets like “racist” and “fascist” as if they are handing out candies. They are inglorious in their one-track championing of lockdowns during pandemics, labeling any dissenting opinion as murderous, even when Americans equate work with the dignity that is much more than a simple livelihood. Maybe somewhere down the line they simply forgot how to be an American…
If I will be glib about it, the Left views the right as entitled “deplorable” who are just not equipped, nor interested, in keeping up with changing realities. Maybe they are part of the demographic majority who just refuse to accept that immigration is sure to make this country look less like “them”, instead yearning to make America great “again”, a strain that is sure to sound like xenophobia, or worse, not-too-subtle racism, to most. Maybe they lament loss of opportunities in their home town as globalized industries steered most manufacturing jobs overseas. Instead, they heap epithets on “illegal aliens”, even if most undocumented work in jobs Americans simply refuse to do. Not to mention their ancestors came to this country as immigrants and survived against odds and heaps of abuse by the then entitled, only this time the hordes at the gates look less pale. Maybe they dream of going back to those mining or petrochemical jobs, high-risk and backbreaking as they are, when most global economies have announced definite plans to rule out gasoline automobiles in a few decades, and are making conscious efforts to replace fossil fuel as source of electricity. Unlike elsewhere that are undergoing similar changes, China, in particular, comes to mind, people here are lagging, by a lot, in retraining and reengaging. Maybe they still are “bitterly clinging to guns and religion” who refuse to acknowledge a majority of Americans live in urban areas that are reasonably policed, or that religion needs to stop referring to a single god, and embrace other gods; encroachment of any in the State affairs is explicitly forbidden by the Constitution.
As the left sees it, these people are entitled and shameless in holding on even if that means going against core values of America. Their dissonance was ever more transparent, and appalling when their cult-leader took it to the farthest he could and attempted to overthrow the outcome of 2020 elections by any means, even if that meant violently stopping the ongoing process of certification of results. Just like his followers, he was entitled to hold on to the Office, no matter what. The right are authoritarian, nihilistic in their purge of institutions of world order, their ridicule of decency and servile before dynasts of their own, as un-American as they come.
Where do we go from here? First, realize that we can not live with just one side. We have to find a common ground, however messy that is. Second, each side must accept that any common ground has to violate purity test of each, your neighbor can vote for the other side without you drawing your gun or them scandalizing your family in public. Third, accept we are all Americans first, and our own shells next. But these are easy steps, next come hard ones.
Fourth, stop living in your own echo-chamber. It is much easier said than done, especially with omniscient Social Media Algorithms – what do you do if every item on your feed spouts a wild-ass conspiracy/theory? This is far above my pay grade, but I will say what I do. I stopped clicking on my social media feeds for news long time back. I have my sources of news, and opinions, from both sides, and I refer to them independent of my social media feeds. My social media landing pages have no links to a US news item, thankfully. [It does have its shortcomings, my social media feed is now full of smiling newborn videos, but heck I am happier because of it]
Fifth, and the biggest one of all, is to acknowledge our own entitlement and be open to the idea that one can pass a value judgment against any one of them so long as they are consistent with the history and ethos of the country. History will be on your side if you say hard work and rigor must form the base of any aspirational existence, and that aspiration within anybody is a good thing even beyond our championship of the “American dream”. Lady Liberty shall smile upon you when you shout that America is a land of immigrants and that historically it accepted you simply because you turned up at its doors (aka landed at Ellis island); asking for a path to citizenship for all undocumented (subject to review of criminal background) is the American thing to do. You could point out that leading global fight against communism was the American thing to do, even if messy at times; and championing the market economy only brought generational riches to the country. It implies we are right to be skeptical of redistribution but we encourage and facilitate social mobility for those displaced by moving parts of a functioning economy and that includes those in the coal-mines, manufacturing plants and oil-patches.
Victimhood is a foreign concept to Americans, even at the height of his struggle for racial justice, Dr. Martin Luther King stressed self-determination, personal responsibility across racial barriers, setting a colorblind standard that is repeatedly pushed aside by today’s “woke” race-baiters. It needs to instill in today’s youth that if you are going to do nothing with your college degree (forty percent of new graduates transition to jobs that do not need a degree to perform, even if they are laden with the cost), a better idea is to go for vocational training than to ask the society pick up the burden of your frivolity. It needs to be drilled that activism is more than tweeting after latte, most do not have a stomach for hard-nosed grunt work and uncertain outcomes, and their cries of “being hurt” need be forcefully ignored because that is the right thing to do. While guns do have a place in the American psyche, reasonable regulations around license and high-caliber weapons are consistent with history and not at all inconsistent with our way of life. I could go on for hours…. An acknowledgment of the existence of the Entitlement Narrative is the first step in looking beyond it for a middle ground, but it is only a first step.
Nobody said this was going to be easy. Ours is a living body of work for a more perfect union. In Amanda Gorman’s words, we are a “nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished”. Amen!