As I sat in an idling car with several new friends on a chilled working-day dawn last week, the topic turned to politics which is always a mistake these days.
By that I mean, it’s a mistake for me.
Because when that exchange arises—unless everyone in the car believed everything I believe—the conversation is likely to be transformed quickly into a hysterically shrieking hurl of crude insults.
At the very fork of life where mature balance and generosity of spirit should be my guiding influence, I have found just the opposite seems more likely. Why is this happening to me? Can I not find a better way to deal with the world’s conflicts than this barely restrained hostility? Apparently, these are rhetorical questions for which I have no good answers.
I take no solace in my enduring juvenile temptations.
But I suspect this conversation stands in symbolic stead for millions of similar conversations that Americans are having among themselves these days. At least, that might be true for those ever-diminishing numbers of Americans who still courageously debate public issue among themselves.
In this realm, where all facts and truths are amorphous changelings, we are told that everyone has a right to opinions no matter how scurrilous and defamatory they are.
But, lordy, lordy, we are an ignorant people these days—truly “ignernt” as my dad would say—and demanding equanimity of me in this era just does not seem to work. Or be satisfying.
I’d prefer to scream. Howl. Bay. Mock. Hoot derisively.
This does not presume I am always right about matters either large or small, because I am not. My only protection is that when presented with better evidence (tested, scientific, validated, observed reality), I often change my mind.
The topic of the moment was J.B.Pritzker, the Chicago billionaire who is running for Illinois governor as a Democrat. I do not understand how any one person with $3 billion in the bank can also be a down-home one-of-the-average-Joes he portrays on TV commercials. That needs more research.
“Sure, he’s rich, but he married into the money. She’s an Abbott (of big pharma fame) or some other rich family,” said my friend with such calm assurance that you’d never doubt he had or needed independent evidence to support this theory.
This description was meant to reinforce the sly slander that not only is Pritzker trying to buy the governor’s mansion, but he’s doing it with pillow-talk financial benefits. So he’s a skunk who married for money.
This theory has a few holes. Pritzker doesn’t need the governor’s mansion because he already owns a much grander 12,500-square-foot version on Chicago’s Gold Coast.
But my friend’s statement is an apt distillation of where intellectual and political debates have landed us as a nation.
As I sit there in the car, I silently debate the choice presented to me. I can keep quiet and preserve the momentary harmony of the gathering. Or I could gently point out that my friend might not have all the facts.
Or I could simply scream, “HE’S A PRITZKER, YOU MORON!! His family INVENTED money!”
But as the outwardly silent screeching was ricocheting inside my head, I only nodded affably, and pretended my friend’s discourse was so obviously true that it did not even require my assent. So I stayed quiet. Peace was maintained.
But my friend had grown up in Chicago and probably even stayed some nights somewhere in a Hyatt hotel, the hospitality empire that the family transformed into a $15 billion empire. When the family divested its holdings in 1999, the family split the business into 11 pieces worth $1.4 billion each.
J.B. took one slice of the pie, and built it into $3 billion.
As to the source of Pritzker influence, power and money (all forms of the same cosmic force), Bryan Smith wrote this in a 2014 Chicago Magazine profile: “The tale of the Pritzkers’ rise from penniless Ukrainian Jews to stupendously wealthy power brokers has already passed into legend. Nicholas, J.B.’s great-grandfather, moving from Kiev to Chicago in 1881 at the age of 10, attending Harvard Law School, and starting his own law firm. The expansion into business under Nicholas’s sons, Harry, A.N., and Jack, who made a fortune buying up distressed properties and other assets. And then, thanks mostly to the savvy of A.N.’s elder sons, Jay and Robert, the growth into a multibillion-dollar family held conglomerate called Marmon, which owned mostly manufacturing companies; they also acquired casinos and even an airline (Braniff). In 1957, Jay, an indefatigable dealmaker and the de facto head of the Pritzker family’s third generation, bought a Los Angeles hotel called Hyatt House. He soon summoned his younger brother Donald—who had recently earned a law degree at the University of Chicago—to run it.”
The Prizkers have made billions and given away billions to improve the lives of the communities in which they’ve lived. They are not perfect people, and no one claims such economic moral spotlessness in their behalf.
All these facts are easily at the right hand of anyone who wishes to know the truth or at least know the facts. Secure a library card of a Google account. Invest in awareness.
My friend in the car chose his own facts, which I suppose is the enduring reality of human consciousness. The delight in choosing to be deliberately self-duped seems strangely addictive these days.
We only know what we choose to know.
And the rest?
That’s left to drift in the eternal but comforting void of ignorance and deliberate prejudice which all Americans claim as their natural right.