“You don’t trust me!” my eight-year-old daughter accused me before kicking me in the shin. Thus began a long, contentious day marked by tears, anger, misperceptions, unpleasant truths, and tough decisions. It’s shocking that an eight-year-old girl would kick her own mother (barefoot, but still!), and perhaps it is equally shocking that I did not respond with swift justice on her backside. I don’t make excuses that she is a hyperactive, impulsive child on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum. She must be taught good behavior and good manners. I owe her that much at least. I understand why she behaves the way she does, sticking her fingers in her ears and yelling, “Blah, blah, blah!” when I’m saying something she doesn’t want to hear. What I don’t understand is why our lawmakers behave the same way.
We have 11 days left, and Congress and the president still can’t decide exactly how to raise the debt ceiling. Come on. Are we really going to allow bipartisan politics to bring us to our knees? Yes, we need a plan—that’s the mission of the Gang of Six. But what we really need here is…trust.
Last summer, when I was driving home on a Saturday afternoon, I heard a piece on NPR’s This American Life titled “Social Contract.” In Act Two of this piece, the curtain rose on two Caribbean Islands, Jamaica and Barbados. I cannot do the story justice myself, so I’m including the link to the radio archive. However, the story of the small island nation of Barbados and how it handled its foreign exchange crisis hit me where I live.
To summarize, when Jamaica faced its foreign exchange crisis, the country devalued its currently, plunging the nation into poverty. In Barbados, the unions accepted a wage cut while businesses held prices (and subsequently their profits) down in order to keep from devaluing their currency. Yes, you read that right. Unions agreed to smaller paychecks. Business sacrificed their profits by keeping prices down. Barbados was able to ride out its economic crisis. Jamaica was not.
I keep thinking about this story as I hear Republicans arguing to make deep spending cuts and Democrats insisting on tax increases. We have 11 days to avert a financial disaster. It doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong anymore. The only thing that matters is that everyone, legislators and voters, pull together on the tough choices that need to be made. Democrats must look for ways to cut spending and Republicans need to examine where to raise taxes. In the end it’s all about trust.
I can’t lock the doors to the Capitol and force the members of Congress to break into small groups to do those trust exercises in which lawmakers fall backward into the waiting arms of their opponents. But I can ask you forward this link. With any luck, the debt ceiling crisis will pass. However, unless Americans stop demonizing each other for their political views and bipartisanship becomes the order of the day, I’m afraid we’re all doomed.