Today as I was driving to work, I found that there was a significant deal of attention paid to the fact that novelist Tom Clancy had died today at the age of 66 . Interestingly enough, Tom Clancy himself had been a writer as well as a Maryland insurance salesman whose debut novel, The Hunt For Red October, was rejected by publisher after publisher until it was finally accepted by the Naval Institute Press, who at the time were not experienced in publishing novels but who had an editor who believed in the work and whose belief was validated. Interestingly enough, I happen to occasionally review books for the Naval Historical Institute myself , including having a strong appreciation for works which share in the Tom Clancy tradition of having strong heroes, a lot of technical information about military and espionage matters, as well as exciting plotting . Even though I am sure that some people, like former President Reagan, were much bigger fans of Tom Clancy than I was, and certainly more influential, I certainly enjoy an exciting genre story like those that Tom Clancy wrote so well, and I am glad that some of his own novels are in my collection.
It is highly ironic that Tom Clancy should die of a brief illness (where few people know the details of his death yet) at a time where his novels should take such a large degree of cultural resonance in terms of our mistrust in the systems of government and politics and our desire for morally upright heroes who are willing to skirt the rules in defense of a nation who has been betrayed by its elites and by so many of its leaders. To be sure, these themes and concerns are not unique to Tom Clancy , but he was a particularly skilled practitioner of his craft in an age that valued his gift at tight plots propelled with a noble hero, as well as a sense of realism that was inspirational even to military figures and whose influence spread far beyond the written world to television, the movies, and video games, all areas of at least some interest to myself and many other people.
We are at the beginning of a government shutdown that was probably inevitable given the massive divide that exists within our political order. Despite the fact that all aspects of our political class seem woefully oblivious to any sort of ability to work together, much less any ability to work for the common good (a desire that seems absent on all sides of our political spectrum insofar as they are represented in Washington DC or in state or local governments even), there is a lot of blame to pass around as well as a great deal of brinksmanship that amounts to people playing patriot games, trying to pose as some sort of brave hero standing firm against the unreasonable demands of unprincipled men and women. While massive numbers of federal employees (including some people I know personally) have been furloughed, day-to-day life for those of us outside of the Beltway does not appear to be drastically affected at this point by the paralysis of the center, even if it has made some aspects of my life a bit more complicated. Whatever sort of compromise is offered between the two sides will not resolve the deeper gridlock and division that exists, nor do more than serve as the grist for more debates and more fighting over power and influence.
It is not a difficult matter to imagine or conceive of a brave and noble hero, usually working alone or with a small group of fairly loyal supporters, to save the world from evil one crisis at a time. This is the sort of material that makes genre novels so appealing to such a wide audience, the belief that one principled and talented person can help deliver the world from evil with a lot of pluck and a little luck. It is a much more difficult matter in reality to conceive of solutions to the sorts of problems that bedevil us. We have a deeply divided populace, a division that is mirrored in our deeply divided political institutions. Every sort of solution that can be thought of to resolve the underlying divisions and tensions falters on the control of certain aspects of society by people with certain worldviews that form the foundation of their belief. Those who would wish to compromise and preserve peace face the immense hostility of a populace that has grown tired of shady backroom deals even if there is no consensus on what vision we have for the future.
Our political leaders, for the most part, are unheroic because they lack any sort of genuine vision. Rather than leading the public discourse and trying to present a consistent and a principled case for one sort of action or another, our leaders (and the leaders of our world at large) are both fearful of the populace and its frustration over paying the price for policies that seem to benefit only a small portion of our society and others as well as contemptuous of the aspirations and hopes and beliefs of those same common folk. The combination of a lack of will in defending the interests that they were put in office to defend as well as a cowardice in following polls instead of their conscience means that our leaders lack both courage and conviction, and thus forfeit our respect even as they seek to demand our obedience. It would be so much better for our leaders to be able to paint a vision of a better future that actually can possibly exist and that serves our best interests as ordinary people who are far from wealthy or powerful or well-connected. After all, it appears that even our political squabbling cannot keep our football games from going on , so the larger divides and concerns between us are clearly not drawing sufficient attention and concern from our population at large, suggesting both that our leaders have failed to give us a compelling vision to show their value to us, and that our government might not be doing all that much to earn its keep if its absence can be so unnoticeable in our daily lives.