Statecraft is one of those semi-obscure words I like. Merriam-Webster defines statecraft as “the art” of governing.
We need more art in our politics. As President John F. Kennedy said, “If more politicians knew poetry, and more poets knew politics, I am convinced the world would be a little better place to live.”
Meanwhile, I’ve joined the vast majority of Americans who mostly tune out politics. In the past, I often quoted Russell Wilson who said, in response to negative chatter, “Tune out the noise.”
This year, I’ve tuned out the noise, the static, and almost the entire cacophony.
Partly this is because I am busy. I’m honored to be litigating one of the biggest public safety cases in the world. At Herrmann Law Group, we represent 46 victim families against Boeing in the crash of Lion Air Flight JT 610 out of Jakarta, Indonesia. The media attention has been international for good reason, including Sixty Minutes Australia.
We have settled some of our cases, but there is still much work to do. As I shared with CNN, our goal is “Justice for the victims, accountability for Boeing, and safer skies for everyone.”
We also filed the first vaping lawsuit in Washington and we are busy on a variety of other cases, including bus disasters, car crashes, and other personal injury matters.
Still, I could find time to tune in politics. On the rare occasions I do though, I end up shaking my head. For example, locally, there is the mayoral race in DuPont. One blogger, “Ranger Dave,” wrote the race has “created hate, divisiveness, and an ugliness that I have only seen on a national level.” The author has not attended many Pierce County political party meetings if he’s only seen this on a national level. I am nonetheless sympathetic to his point.
I admit I do not know anything substantive about the race in DuPont. I do know Mayor Courts in the way elected officials tend to know each other. He is an honorable man, a good guy, and an effective public official. These are qualities that mattered once in politics.
There was also a time when the mainstream media might endeavor to clear the water rather than dump more mud. Not these days. A local newspaper editor candidly advised me she did not particularly care if a story was true. She lost her job, as did an ethically-challenged colleague of hers, but I was told it was due to lack of web clicks rather than lack of honesty.
That said, I know journalists who share my belief the truth matters even if it doesn’t generate clicks, the dialogue needs to be elevated, and we all play a part. I also know public officials who share this belief.
Staying above the fray may not be good political strategy these days, but it is good life strategy almost always.
Some of the highest praise I’ve received, in my mind, was from The Tacoma Weekly in an article about my transition from public service to private practice. “He brought bipartisanship, civility, and integrity to the job.” This is a trifecta of worthy goals, even if temporarily out of fashion.
I do not think I am alone in missing the artful, high-minded rhetoric of Presidents Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and John F. Kennedy. Obama rejected the division of blue states and red states in favor of “the United States.” Reagan spoke about the United States as a “shining city on a hill.” And Kennedy urged us to focus on “what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.”
While a few of my brethren in the Democratic Party do not share my admiration of Reagan as a communicator, I still remember his healing speech to the nation after seven astronauts died in the Challenger disaster.
“We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.'”
Reagan, sometimes called the Great Communicator, said, “I wasn’t a great communicator, but I communicated great things. They didn’t spring full bloom from my brow, they came from the heart of a great nation, from our experience, our wisdom, and our belief in the principles that have guided us for two centuries.”
This is one of the things generally missing from our dialogue today: great things, great ideas. Both the media and candidates are too often mired in the small, spun out in the trivial. This keeps many away from the media and politics. Alienation, in turn, worsens the problem.
Governor Jay Inslee ran a noble presidential campaign on a great idea — the need to defeat climate change. He dropped out after failing to penetrate the noise. As novelist Kurt Vonnegut would say, “So it goes.”
I am ever optimistic and believe we will eventually rise above the Balkanization, tribalism, fake news, and general noise of our current moment. For evidence, I cite our history of periodic backsliding as we move inexorably forward.
Mark Twain said, “If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uniformed. If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.” This is even funnier and truer today, except you have to add in television and Twitter and Facebook and so on.
The truth is out there, as the tagline for the television show X Files says. The problem is it takes work to find it and we are all busy.
Meanwhile, please support people who believe in statecraft and are willing to serve.