The path forward

It's a gray, drizzly April morning with a distinct purgatory feel. Clouds hang .on the tips of trees and the world is damp. It's Edgar Allen Poe weather, dropping a layer of melancholy on the day.

We had severe storms just a couple of days earlier. When the winds started blowing and thunder rumbled in the distance, my wife and I moved to our front porch to watch as nature cycled in a tantrum of wind, rain, and lightning. Our house is on a hill, so we get a good view of what comes from the western skies.

"That one was close," my wife says when lightning strikes behind St. Vincent Infirmary.

Thunder rolls toward us like a bag of marbles dropped on a wood floor.

We had brutally cold record-setting temperatures last winter. Now, it's ferocious storms. A tornado destroyed homes in an area that had never experienced the terrible power of a tempest.

"I keep thinking of that book I read," I say to my wife as the wind pushes small trees to unnatural angles.

She nods. I've mentioned it so many times, she knows that I'm talking about the novel "The Deluge" by Stephen Markley.

It's a sweeping, Stephen King-esque book with climate change as the primary antagonist. Beautifully written with extraordinary character development, the novel paints a haunting picture of a world unwilling to address basic truths of science.

"That book still bothers me," I say. "Mostly because it's a process." She knows what I'm about to say but lets me keep talking, despite the fact I've made the point with her many times.

"Instead of an asteroid hitting the Earth, or a zombie apocalypse, or a massive, nuclear-bomb-like volcano instantly incinerating a city, it's a gradual, noticeable change in weather. Seems like it'd be a boring premise, but it's not. Fires punctuate years on the West Coast, hurricanes reach previously unrecorded strength, a subtle disruption of regional weather patterns causes folks in those areas to say, 'Wow, that's never happened before,' and then continue on their merry way. And then, it's too late."

"So, you think we're living that scenario right now?"

That question causes me to pause. There's a natural inclination to explain things away, despite that nattering thimble of anxiety that seems to live within every American today. It's that feeling that things are not going the way they should, that something is out of whack, but we hear voices telling us the opposite, telling us our eyes are lyin' once again.

Think of the political world. The election of the first Black president was a hallmark in American history. Then, the Tea Party arose, then town hall meetings looked like cage-fights, then arguments over Supreme Court nominations became even more bitter, among other things.

Fast-forward through the Trump years and insurrection. Most of politics remained the same with its compromises, deal-making, business-as-usual predictability. But then we have extremes pushing craziness, the unnecessary storms meant to gain attention and votes and, of course, money. Power will always be the most corrupting force of nature. And there's nothing more dangerous in this world than a mediocre person with a little bit of power. Many of our recent legislative arguments underscore this.

"In the book, the world is going out in a whimper. You see these literal messages in the sky and they're ignored, explained as cycles, natural occurrences. It's like our political scene today. There's craziness that people are passing off as normal, that sucks us in because, despite its total abnormality, we're seeing it so often that we become conditioned to it."

"What happens in the book?"

"We fail."

Lightning arcs from cloud to cloud right in front of us and a rush of wind makes our American flag wrap around itself. I grab the metal pole it's on and pull it into the house, only later pausing to think I shouldn't grab a metal pole in a storm.

That's what today feels like. It feels like we're not recognizing the danger in ignoring the extremes of weather and politics. It feels as if we're trading tomorrow's viability for today's comfort.

The path forward can be like that novel--a slow-moving train to abject failure. Or it can be something like the American Dream we profess, the dream where reason and accountability build the platform for a future in which everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Is this the mushy middle, as some call it? Is it mealy-mouthed optimism?

The greatest moments in our history have come as a result of rejecting the conditioned extreme--those situations normalized by communities but counter to American ideals. Think FDR's America defeating Hitler's Third Reich. Think Abraham Lincoln's first attempt at absolution for the sin of slavery. Think Revolutionary colonists rejecting authoritarian rule. Folks like columnist Rex Nelson, in his latest diatribes against the extreme, are right.

The path forward is one where we recognize danger when we see it and build a community where reason isn't an anomaly. It's a community that takes action to quell man-made storms so we might not push to cataclysmic disaster. It's a community where politics becomes, once again, the art of diplomacy.

The path forward is not difficult to find. If only we'd start looking.

Steve Straessle is the principal of Little Rock Catholic High School for Boys. You can reach him at sstraessle@lrchs.org. Find him on Twitter @steve_straessle. "The Strenuous Life" appears every other Saturday.

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