President Donald Trump declared a national emergency regarding security and his desire for a border wall. His declaration came on the one-year anniversary of the slaughter of 17 people and the wounding of 17 others, mostly high school students, in Parkland, Fla. Trump might have seized that date as the bold beginning of a broad and honest conversation about guns in our culture and in memory of the Parkland victims and the nearly 1,200 children who have died of gun violence since then. Instead, he seemed to deflect the issue by changing the subject.
Not that the subject of immigration and border security is anything new; it has been with us for decades and through multiple presidential administrations. The issue is complicated and will require a multi-faceted approach with many people at the table.
For Trump, however, his wall has become a symbol, one to solve the issue once and for all. "No problem!" "Trust me!"
Stephen Covey, author of "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," organized time management in four quadrants: urgent/important, not urgent/important, urgent/not important, and not urgent/not important. Covey asserted that we spend most of our time in the not-important quadrants, whereas effective people spend the greatest amount of energy in the not urgent/important quadrant, the quadrant of imagination, creativity, deep thought, assessment, long-range planning, and reading. This quadrant prepares us for the urgent quadrants, whereas the not urgent/not important quadrant, the quadrant of distraction and trivia, makes us reactive, hasty, shortsighted, and uninformed.
In 1985, Neil Postman published "Amusing Ourselves to Death," which has haunted me since I first read it. Americans, according to Postman, are being consumed by an insatiable hunger to be amused. Postman cites Aldous Huxley's "Brave New World," where citizens are intoxicated by the fictitious soothing drug, "soma," which produces a false happiness, a distraction from meaning, through which the citizens willingly surrender and thus abdicate their roles of responsibility. Postman argues that, while print media allows for rational argument, television (and today he would include other forms of media) "is altering the meaning of 'being informed' by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation - misplaced, irrelevant, fragmented, or superficial information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing."
Once, when I lobbied for social-justice issues at the state Capitol, we were briefed on the 30-second "elevator pitch": how to present your position in the time it takes to ride an elevator. Today, our discourse is reduced to tweets and bumper stickers.
There is no doubt we are facing monumental crises as a nation and world: climate change, the national debt, the fleecing of the middle class, skyrocketing levels of unspeakable poverty, Citizens United, unaffordable health care, addiction, racism, gun violence, mass incarceration, voting rights and the integrity of our elections, the relationship with our allies, cyber security, and, yes, immigration and border security.
But perhaps the most urgent and important crisis of our time is that of the integrity of leadership.
I once read that the Chinese character for the word "crisis" is a combination of the characters for "opportunity" and "danger." I always have defaulted to embracing opportunity; now I think we're in grave danger.
Covey and Postman would have us stop "amusing ourselves to death" and instead invest time in the not urgent/important quadrant so we can effectively address the many urgent and important issues facing us. And we can insist our leaders do the same.
The Rev. David Tryggestad of Duluth is a retired pastor.