Opinion

Friends, revenge, other eternal verities

Well, the election has come and gone.

But the vituperation and name-calling hasn’t ended, and I don’t foresee that happening anytime soon.

Other than stating once or twice in this space that I wouldn’t be voting for the incumbent president, I stayed out of the presidential-election fray.

Not because I didn’t have strong opinions. It wasn’t that.

But early in the campaign I noticed that neither side of the equation was maintaining their sense of humor. I don’t consider attack advertisements as humor, and without humor (think Mark Twain and Will Rogers) American national politics can be as unnattractive as an older beauty queen without her makeup.

I grew up in the Midwest, spent a lot of time playing competitive sports, and lived large parts of my adult life in politically reactionary areas like Idaho and Kitsap County.

While in Idaho, especially, I made many friends who flat disagreed with me on national politics.

It used to be fun to argue with them about the elder Bush, Mr. Clinton, and even Bush, Jr. But after Sept. 11, the humor in most political discussions,  maybe understandably, has gone partisan and mean-spirited.

In my view, especially as I grow older, people are more important than theoretical right and wrong. So I decided not to engage friends who I knew disagreed with me in any violent discussions about Messrs. Bush and Kerry.

I promoted my candidate to anyone I thought was neutral and laid off any discussions that seemed to have the potential to turn acrimonious.

Most folks picked up on my new non-confrontational vibe and talked Mariners, Seahawks, the attractiveness of certain women or the perfidious nature of certain men, instead of Bush-Kerry and America’s near future.

Two people did not, and those two people are probably not friends anymore. Cornered, nobody has a nastier mouth than I do.

And, I would guess, like most of you, I feel especially aroused if I think I’ve been bending over backwards to get along with someone and they take my attitude for weakness instead of kindness or concern.

American voters this time around reminded me of siblings arguing over the care of a sick parent — and a country at war, even when winning, has a national flu — and totally disagreeing.

To continue the analogy, imagine the Kerry voters wanted to try and make Mom U.S. better with, say, accupunture and naturapathic treatments, while the Bush voters wished to continue treating Mom with good old-fashioned Western medicine.

If you have siblings and aging parents, you know things can get ugly.

The divide was so great this time around I doubt there will be the instant healing called for by the less thoughtful among us.

I think most folks will eventually heal. But some have suffered wounds that will fester and cause them to seek revenge.

Now revenge is something Americans don’t like to talk about much. But we are fascinated by it all the same.

Think of the success of the Godfather films, especially the first two. These movies, and Goodfellas, turn on revenge.

The Mafia, an American institution now in more trouble than an Arizona savings and loan during the days of Charles Keating, perfected the art of payback.

The Italians even have a saying that has seeped into our culture: Revenge is a dish best served cold.

In other words, smile, ingratitate yourself with the target of your wrath, and wait until said target forgets he or she has ever wronged you.

Like most other things American, we don’t tend to appreciate waiting.

We have feuds that last for 100 years — the Hatfields and McCoys, for example. Or Billy the Kid and the Lincoln County War in old New Mexico.

But we don’t wait. We tend to come right back at whoever we think has done us wrong.

Even the French, those much-maligned former allies (can you say anything sillier than Freedom Fries?) love at least thinking about revenge. “The Count of Monte Cristo” is hands-down the greatest revenge story ever written, and it was penned by Dumas the Elder, a Frenchman.

The French have remade that story in countless films, and so have we — I’ve seen at least three versions in English including Richard Chamberlain’s best acting job ever as the revengeful count himself.

That’s right, Richard Chamberlain.

I have my hopes about America’s future, so I’m not planning any kind of payback myself, but I am not sanguine about our shared country’s immediate future.

I think Americans have forgotten how to argue like family. Things were done and said this time around on the national scene that in some cases will retard or even preclude healing.

In a family, such pettiness leads to feuding, sniping, back-biting and grudges. In poltics, it means all those things plus filibustering obstructionism and arrogant I-told-you-so speeches.

In politics, such bitter pettiness also means partisanship when unity is needed.

Whether or not I am for the war in Iraq I am still an American. I travel on an American passport. I am involved.

I would like to think all Americans feel this same way. But I know they don’t.

If we don’t put our philosophical differences aside, or at least on the back burner, I fear we are in for a long and bumpy ride.

We gain nothing as a country and a culture by calling each other names.

Just being right about this prediction of mine for trouble ahead will not make me feel good. This much I am certain about.

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