Friday, November 11, 2016

America, We’re In the Forge

I’ve recently become a major fan of the History Channel show “Forged by Fire”.  It is a reality/game show where contestants compete to turn raw materials into finished knives thru the process of bladesmithing.  It’s endlessly fascinating watching artists turn raw steel or junk into beautiful weapons or tools.  The show turns the messy process of bladesmithing into four general phases:
  1. Heating in the Forge:  Softening the metal so that it can shaped
  2. Shaping:  Hammering the hot steel into a new form
  3. Quenching:  Cooling red-hot steel to transform it into hardened steel
  4. Finishing:  Fine work to turn a blade into a knife suitable for all kinds of useful work

The 2016 election season has been scary for many.  They feel like the country is spinning out of control.  But I suspect this is because we are focussed on this moment, rather than taking a longer view of history.  Our current political world was born out of the fires of World War II and the Cold War.  Republicans and Democrats were forged in opposition to big ideas and big foes.  These shapes have served both parties well for 70 years.  But the Great Recession has shown up the cracks in both parties and it is time to forge a new political reality to last the next 50 to 100 years.

Heating in the Forge:  In this context, the populism of Donald J Trump and Bernie Sanders makes sense.  This is the fire which is softening up American politics.  We’re in the forge now, and the old political alliances are coming apart.  This is necessarily a painful time because the shape we’ve all grown up counting on is changing and we don’t know what the new one will be.

Shaping:  The next four to eight years will be critical and painful, because they will be the time when American politics is reshaped.  Steel is moved by the force of powerful blows of a hammer.  And not just one, but repeated blows over and over again.  We shouldn’t expect the current protests or the conflict we are seeing to go away, because they are the hammer blows.  They are useful and they are necessary to the process, just as the Boston Tea Party was necessary to the forging of the USA in the first place.  

Quenching:   We’ll know the shaping is done when a major event occurs that solidifies the new reality.  After that event, the protests and debates will end as the heat of populism is quenched.  Then we’ll know the final shape of things.  The fear and pain will be over, and the hard work of using our new reality to drive history begins.

Finishing:  Once the new form is set, we’ll have a time where the
new political reality dresses itself up for proper use.  New political legends will replace the facts in our memories (Does anyone really think George Washington would never tell a lie?)  New symbols will be created to reflect the way we have redefined ourselves.  New language will arise to allow us to effectively debate the issues that matter to the new world.  Then we’ll use this finished reality to drive the country forward.

In conclusion, don’t be afraid or lose faith over this moment in history.  If a bar of steel could talk, it would certainly cry out in pain and terror when it is heated and hammered.  But that same bar of steel would one day take great pride in the effective tool it becomes in the hands of an expert bladesmith.  Have faith that America will feel that same pride again on both sides of the aisle. And apply grace liberally to friends and enemies as we suffer through the heat of the forge.

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