The U-Knotted States of America.

July 26, 2020

The U-Knotted States of America.

May 29, 2023

I have a naughty relationship with knots. Even though I was on my way to becoming an Eagle Scout in my early teens, I couldn’t tie a knot to save my life. I was especially bad at tying knots to hold up my bathing suit, so often, upon jumping in the swimming pool, my suit would be hanging around my ankles, and I’d be in “Full Monty” glory for family pictures.

Look up synonyms (or what I called “cinnamons” as a kid) for “knotted,” and you’ll see these three tortured adjectives: “knobbly,” “gnarly,” and “twisted.” Apt words to describe the U.S. in 2020. Yes, knots have served us well in the past (how else would we have hitched up our horse in front of the western saloon?), but we’ve now gotten ourselves into a knotty national predicament.

Conventional wisdom suggests you have to create slack to help work a knot loose. Pushing slack into the knot can help unbind it. Unfortunately, we live in an era with very little slack. We don’t cut each other slack personally or politically and, hence, the knot gets tighter.

Another option for loosening is to wriggle the knot—to push and pull to create some yield. But in our 24-7 2020 news cycle, “wriggling the knot” can make a politician look clueless or careless. Ultimately, the knot won’t untie without some experimentation. Some demagogues may apply pliers or chainsaws to the knot, but that just damages the underlying knotted material which, in this American case, is our citizenry’s sense of pride in their country.

All of which brings me to the 2,500-year-old story of Gordias, a peasant farmer. His people were the Phrygians, who at the time were king-less. An oracle suggested that the next man to enter the city with an ox-cart would become their king (who needs our November elections with this novel approach?). As fate would have it, Gordias came to town and tied up his ox with a tightly-entangled knot. Immediately, he was proclaimed their leader. Unfortunately, the ox-cart stayed in place for years due to the massive Gordian knot. An oracle declared that whoever could untie the knot would become the ruler of all of Asia. No one could solve the knot until young Alexander the Great drew his sword and sliced it in half. No creating slack. No wriggling. Alexander believed the seemingly insoluble problem required a decisive and divisive (as in dividing something) solution.

How will America solve its knotty problem? Will it take collaboration and wisdom, or will it take heroic and decisive action? Perhaps a combination of both. Either way, a solution is desperately needed. With each passing day, the knot strangling the national lifeblood is getting tighter, as our beloved country transforms into the Divided States of America.

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