Matthew Jelalian 01

Matthew Jelalian poses for a portrait in the Daily Herald studio on Friday, March 6, 2015. SAMMY JO HESTER, Daily Herald

Over this past week, there have been two mass shootings, the country’s largest immigration raid in a decade, and a bunch of other stories are still ongoing.

From Epstein’s sex crimes to President Trump making racist statements about Baltimore to Joe Biden saying “poor kids are just as smart as white kids,” America is really having a moment. It’s not a good moment, but it’s a moment.

I’ve seen politicians, politicos, and random folks on Twitter use the phrase “this isn’t what America stands for” in various contexts this week. In some ways, the phrase almost seems to be replacing the phrase “thoughts and prayers.” It’s a quick and easy way to condemn something that has happened without doing anything to make sure that something doesn’t happen again.

But I’m not sure it’s true. We could argue that the extreme partisanship in Washington, D.C. doesn’t represent the views of the average American. Polls suggest this is the case, but we still elect these polarizers and send them to the Capitol. At what point are we Americans responsible for putting these people in charge?

How many mass shootings have to happen with us doing nothing to stop them until we have to admit that we’re OK with them happening? Maybe it’s not fair to say we’re OK with them, but at some point, we have to admit that it hasn’t really moved us to action for some reason.

We could apply this to most negative stories. Drug cartels wouldn’t bring drugs across the border if there wasn’t a big market for them and sex traffickers would go out of business if Americans weren’t paying them. At some point, these things are partially our responsibility.

Every day, Americans do amazingly great things for other people, but that doesn’t mean we have a long way to go in fixing our flaws. And to fix those problems, we have to start at a shared point of agreement.

Right now, it seems like Americans, or at least our legislators, have very different ideas of what America is and what it means to be Americans. We can’t possibly talk about solutions to our country’s problems when we can’t even agree on what our country is about. Do we want to be a country that condemns racism and helps those in need, or do we want to champion free speech and economic freedom? Is there a way of doing all of those things? How do we find the lines between these concepts? This is the ongoing discussion that every country has, but it seems like it’s an especially important one for our country right now.

Recently I saw a series of illustrations of a baseball field that I think can help us find some common ground on this issue. The picture was of a baseball game where the field was surrounded by a wooden fence, Three people of varying heights are watching the game from the other side of the fence. In one version of the picture, each person was standing on a box. Those boxes were equal in size. The shortest person couldn’t see over the fence because their box wasn’t tall enough for them to see. In another version of the picture, the shortest person had two boxes stacked on top of each other, so they could see the game like the other two. To me, these first two illustrations are representative of our current political choices. One party says they want to give people equality of opportunity. The problem with this philosophy is that it automatically disadvantages people who are born with less.

Others want to give the disadvantaged more benefits — a second box — so they can succeed — watch the game. The main problem is, that this solution doesn’t really fix the problem. It’s mostly a Band-Aid solution that costs money indefinitely.

But there’s a third option. Replace the wooden fence with a chain-link fence. This is what the third iteration of this picture did. That way, nobody had to stand on a box to see. The chain-link fence illustrated how the obstacle that created a disparity in viewing was removed. I think we need to focus on these kinds of solutions to make long-term change.

It’s not just a matter of helping the poor or arresting drug dealers, these are all just symptoms, but what’s the disease that’s causing these symptoms? We have too many conversations about whether or not people deserve an extra box and not enough discussions about replacing the fence that’s blocking their view in the first place.

I hope we can work on becoming a country that fixes institutional and systemic problems and not get lost in debates about who gets more boxes. Maybe then, we can start talking to each other, and not at each other.