What Are We Looking At?

The Jigsaw Puzzle of Modern American Life.

Have you ever done a large jigsaw puzzle without ever seeing what it looked like before you even began?

It is an apt metaphor for what we are doing today in the political and social landscape and in the economic and investment world.

All we have to go by are hundreds of different, strangely shaped pieces.  

As with jigsaw puzzles, different people naturally pursue different strategies for solving them.

Some favor a “find the edges” approach that quickly gets them the contours of a picture, but does little to fill it in. Others diligently sort pieces by color, shape, size and comparability. They learn little or nothing from any single piece or even a few, but their brute force methodology ensures that, slowly, eventually and laboriously, the picture will be filled in.

In solving any puzzle, one has to fight the tendency to superimpose their own imagination on the picture, lest they be led into canyons of confusion.

We think we know more than we actually do.

The world today strikes me as a hugely complex jigsaw puzzle.

A pandemic occurs rarely and when it does it upends many, if not most, historic givens. Allowing it to rage unimpeded across the country has upended millions of pieces (in this case, human lives) in ways that have yet to be fully understood. And, nearly 300,000 lost souls (so far) will never know how the picture turns out.

We have also suffered for four years under an unhinged and almost certainly insane President who has trampled democratic norms at every turn and unleashed hordes of equally unhinged extremists. He is leaving us with about a quarter of our population transfixed by his ‘genius.’ Apparently, our puzzle includes a section dedicated to democracy; whether we’ll be able to find the right pieces for it remains to be seen.

Economically, it’s not even clear we’re all working on the same puzzle. The stock market sees the arrival of a vaccine as a certain panacea which will put us back on track economically within the year. Let’s hope they’re right. But continued lockdowns, a pending massive wave of evictions, and the continued decimation of small businesses across the country suggest some of our pieces may be irretrievably lost.

I urge all of us to go back to the puzzle board and keep working through the combinations and shapes. We have to keep adding to the picture of reality that Trump has tried to steal from us. We must find a way to make the many pieces fit back together in a way that reveals the picture: the great American promise.


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