Hur­ri­cane Har­vey re­veals the bet­ter side of a di­vided Amer­ica

The News Herald (Willoughby, OH) - - Opinion - Jonah Gold­berg The Na­tional Re­view Jonah Gold­berg is an ed­i­torat-large of Na­tional Re­view On­line. Con­tact him at Jon­ah­sCol­

Even hur­ri­canes have a sil­ver lin­ing: The down­pour washes away a lot of bull.

Don’t get me wrong. This is a tragedy for un­told thou­sands of peo­ple. And no up­side could pos­si­bly bal­ance the scale against the down­side. The full hu­man toll of Har­vey, now a trop­i­cal storm, re­mains to be de­ter­mined, but it’s al­ready steep. As of this writ­ing, the of­fi­cial count of fa­tal­i­ties was up to 14, and that num­ber will prob­a­bly rise. The eco­nomic cost will take a long time to cal­cu­late. And the emo­tional price — lost homes, heir­looms, pic­tures, worry, stress — can never be cal­cu­lated.

And yet, I couldn’t help but no­tice that there is a “feel good” as­pect to the whole catas­tro­phe. The best ex­am­ple is the hy­per­vi­ral story of two men load­ing up their boat and driv­ing into the storm. CNN’s Ed La­van­dera found them un­der a highway over­pass ready­ing the ves­sel.

That man was African-Amer­i­can. His part­ner ap­peared to be Cau­casian or maybe Latino. But it doesn’t mat­ter at all. We don’t know if they’re Repub­li­can or Demo­crat, pro-Trump or anti-Trump, NRA mem­bers

But pol­i­tics and ideology are, or should be, down­stream from all of the most im­por­tant things in life, at least in Amer­ica.

or fans of gun con­trol. (Though let’s be hon­est: This is Texas, so we can guess on that one.) All they wanted to do was help. While it was a jour­nal­is­tic faux pas not to get the men’s names, it al­most made the story more en­dear­ing that we didn’t get them, be­cause it re­in­forced the idea that they were just nor­mal Amer­i­cans.

All week­end, TV and so­cial me­dia high­lighted sto­ries like this. Granted, there were plenty of at­tempts to politi­cize the storm. Some had su­per­fi­cial le­git­i­macy.

Did Texas of­fi­cials — par­tic­u­larly the Demo­cratic mayor of Hous­ton and the Repub­li­can gover­nor of Texas — drop the ball in not or­der­ing a manda­tory evac­u­a­tion? But even th­ese de­bates lacked the bit­ter vit­riol that marked cov­er­age of Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina or even Hur­ri­cane Sandy.

Other at­tempts to bend an apo­lit­i­cal event to a pre­ferred po­lit­i­cal nar­ra­tive were more des­per­ate and de­spi­ca­ble.

The Twit­ter ac­count for an out­fit called Char­i­ta­ble Hu­mans un­leashed a Cat-5 gale of schaden­freude at Hous­ton’s woes. Over a satel­lite im­age of Har­vey: “Texas has been bit­ten by Karma, but they still have a huge debt to the bank of Karma.” “I just can’t bring my­self to even con­sider pro­vid­ing aid to any red state, let them clean up their own mess.”

To its credit, the or­ga­ni­za­tion later deleted its ac­count and re­leased an apolo­getic state­ment say­ing its lead­ers were “hor­ri­fied” by their so­cial me­dia co­or­di­na­tor’s ac­tions.

But the point was al­ready made. We live in an ugly, tribal mo­ment in Amer­i­can his­tory. In­deed, the more rep­re­sen­ta­tive story of the week­end came out of Berke­ley, where “an­tifa” goons beat up non­vi­o­lent pro­test­ers they uni­lat­er­ally deemed to be fas­cist.

By com­par­i­son, de­spite the ter­ri­ble plight of its vic­tims, Har­vey was the happy story, at least in one nar­row re­spect. Pol­i­tics is be­com­ing a sub­sti­tute for iden­tity, even re­li­gion, for mil­lions of Amer­i­cans. How you vote, what team you root for on the cable shout shows, is be­com­ing a sig­ni­fier of who you are. The me­dia fuel this at­ti­tude, in large ways and small, by turn­ing the news into “nar­ra­tives” of good peo­ple and bad peo­ple. This is an un­healthy devel­op­ment, re­gard­less of which ide­o­log­i­cal uni­form you wear.

But pol­i­tics and ideology are, or should be, down­stream from all of the most im­por­tant things in life, at least in Amer­ica. (It’s a dif­fer­ent mat­ter in places like Venezuela or North Korea.) Un­der nor­mal cir­cum­stances this can be hard to see, never mind ap­pre­ci­ate, be­cause we are lucky to live in a fab­u­lously rich and free so­ci­ety where peo­ple can af­ford to make pol­i­tics into a sport or fash­ion state­ment.

Most of us can see this within our own net­works of friends and fam­ily, where po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences rarely trump more mean­ing­ful bonds. But on a mass scale, it be­comes ap­par­ent only in dire cir­cum­stances, like when flood­wa­ters wash away the non­sense and re­veal the de­cency of the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

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