In the charming animated movie UP, a recurring joke had the dog distracted from his task of the moment by the appearance of a squirrel. For a while, it became a meme–if a debate threatened to get personal, or a line of inquiry a bit too probing, someone would yell “squirrel!” to change the focus and break the tension.
“Squirrel!” became shorthand for distraction, and an inability to continue focusing on the task at hand.
It isn’t only bathroom use, of course.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Some public schools are starting summer vacation several days early. Others are contemplating a four-day week to cut costs. And more than 200 teachers in Oklahoma City were handed pink slips in March.
But instead of addressing a burgeoning budget crisis that threatens public education and other critical state services, Oklahoma lawmakers have been busy debating proposals to criminalize abortion, police students’ access to public bathrooms and impeach President Obama.
It isn’t only Oklahoma, either. In fact, some of the most egregious examples of misdirection can be found in Congress, where 50+ votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, interminable investigations of Benghazi, and attempts to impeach the head of the Internal Revenue Service, among similar distractions, have consumed the energies of lawmakers to the detriment of actually doing the nation’s business.
It’s hard to know whether the surreal political landscape we currently inhabit is simply a “phase” we are going through–sort of a national adolescence–or whether it is the beginning of a disintegration of the Republic– evidence that in an increasingly complex modern world, responsible citizenship and self-government are simply beyond our capacities.
If it is the latter, the really worrisome question is: what will replace it? If–as most of us fervently hope– we are just experiencing the dislocations of social change and “paradigm shift,” what sorts of policies should our elected officials be putting in place to safeguard a Constitutional system that has served us well, while still responding to the challenges of globalization and modernity?
But hey–let’s worry about Target’s bathroom policy.