The Festering Wound

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

First, let me be absolutely clear. I will applaud any modicum of success Donald Trump realizes as POTUS. It’s currently hard to envision, but if it does happen, I will give credit where credit is due. My bottom line is that I want our country to succeed and flourish.

Second, although I didn’t vote for him, I don’t believe President Trump is the worst threat to our democracy. He is just the most visible symptom…the metaphorical “pus” that oozes from the infected wound. Yes, part of reason he was elected is that middle America is tired of being ignored and wants change. I get that. I wish our system had offered them better choices. But, he was also propelled to victory because of the “bacteria” of racism and hatred, fed by the “talking heads” and Internet content of questionable veracity. Over time, this bacteria infected the wound, generating the “pus” which indicated a problem.

What was the original wound? Well, it depends on how far back you want to go. In my lifetime, I think it would have to be the denial of civil rights that led to the civil rights movement that led to resentments (that I believe were unjustified) that so significantly wounded our national psyche. Please don’t get me wrong. President Lyndon Johnson was absolutely right to sign the Civil Rights Act in 1964. It helped right many of the wrongs that had permeated for too long against way too many. Unfortunately, the change in law was, in some ways, just a band-aid that masked the wound. It helped the healing begin, but did not deliver the antibiotics to cure the sickness. No doubt, the antibiotics (eradicate poverty, fix the criminal justice system, win the war on drugs) were huge pills that we weren’t willing to swallow. As a result, the wound never properly healed.

The more optimistic part of me says, “at least now the hatred and resentment is out in the open. At least now we can see the extent of the sickness and begin to deal with it.” Problem is, it will now take even more powerful and costly antibiotics to heal the wound, assuming we could even agree what the wound is.

A couple of days ago, I was listening to NPR’s “On Point.” The discussion was about President Obama’s legacy and a caller said he was really glad Obama was gone because of “the hate he sowed.” The show’s host was obviously incredulous and asked the caller why he thought this. The caller said, “when Trayvon Martin was killed, Obama immediately came out with a statement about how ‘it could have been my son.’” The host said he didn’t think there wasn’t anything racist in that statement, rather, President Obama was trying to empathize with Trayvon’s family. The caller though seemed undeterred. I don’t think he was trying to be inflammatory, but sincerely believed Obama was stoking racism. Try as I might, I can’t begin to understand how he came to that conclusion and it makes me really sad for our country and our democracy. Day after day, especially since Trump’s election, I encounter viewpoints from neighbors and acquaintances that are 180 degrees different from mine on a myriad of issues. How did we get to this place and more importantly, what are we going to do about it?

Obviously there were a combination of factors that brought us here. First, the choice of “news” sources we now enjoy ensures there is much less homogeny in our perspectives than when Walter Cronkite told all of us “that’s the way it is” at the end of each day. Not only that, but algorithmed social media continually feeds us “news” that only serves to ingrain the beliefs we already hold. This is compounded by the “echo chambers” “that allow us to promote our favorite narratives, form polarized groups and resist information that doesn’t conform to our beliefs.”

Second, some of us have lost the true meaning of patriotism. I contend patriotism is not about symbolism such as wearing a flag pin or flying the flag. In fact, George Washington implored Americans to “Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.” Rather, as John F. Kennedy said, patriotism is about asking “what we can do for our country” versus what “our country can do for us.” Patriotism is also, as Republican President Theodore Roosevelt said, “to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.”  Our nations’ newest President would do well to heed the words of his 26th predecessor who was after all, immortalized on Mt. Rushmore for being one of the most popular and important of our Presidents.

Third, is our “me-first” attitude at the expense of any concern for the common good. Government is evil and should be reduced in size “where we can drown it in the bathtub” said Grover Norquist. And yet, government is us. It is our collective voice. It is the entity that we elect to ensure the safety and security of our citizens and the education of our children. In fact, our lack of national committment to a well-rounded, well-resourced, and truly public, educational system is a great example of the “me-first” attitude. The school choice movement, pushed by corporate profiteers, is cleverly devised to take advantage of this. It is not about ensuring ALL children have every opportunity to succeed, just “my” kid. It IS about resegregating our society by socio-economic status thereby over the long-term, ensuring wealth inequity is only exacerbated. It is also about reducing the people’s voice in our democracy and funneling as much of the $700 billion education market to the private sector as possible. It should be no surprise this is the goal of the rich and powerful. After all, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.” The less we all think it seems, the more our leaders can…well…“stink”, without us calling them on it.

Last, is our collective laziness surrounding the exercise of our civic duties. “Somebody” we say, should vote, should call, should march, should write letters, should run for office. Truth is, all of us should do most of those things. Charles de Montesquieu, a French philosopher who lived in the 17th and 18th century, said, “The tryanny of a prince in an oligarchy is not so dangerous to the public welfare as the apathy of a citizen in a democracy.” A democracy simply must have an engaged citizenry to be successful. I believe one of the important ways to be engaged is for each of us to pay our fair share of taxes. Author Alain de Botton eloquently said, “Paying tax should be framed as a glorious civic duty worthy of gratitude – not a punishment for making money.” Performing jury service or signing up for the draft are two other ways we fulfill our civic duties. The important point is that each of us realizes that the freedoms we enjoy don’t come free.

As for what we can do to turn things around, well therein lies the rub, right? I’m pretty sure that it starts with listening to each other again. As the saying goes, “that’s why God gave us two ears and one mouth.” It’s not just enough to listen though, we must actually hear and respond with compassion because even though it doesn’t seem like it now, we really are all in this together. If we could just find some common ground, we could start to rebuild. This rebuilding would initially look like tolerance of each other but hopefully would work its way up to acceptance. It would require respect for one another’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; and that each of us strive to develop a “more perfect union.” Of course, to truly be a “more perfect union” we must understand that there are blue states and red states, white people and people of color, Christians and Muslims, men and women, etc. We must understand that our diversity doesn’t “ruin” America, it is what makes us great. It is what has always made us great. United we stand, divided we fall. Words to live by, now more than ever.

18 responses to “The Festering Wound

  1. There comes that day when it doesn’t matter how you got to where you are, you are just simply there.

    To save whatever is left of our democracy, we have to be divided. The reason we have to be divided is because we do not agree on what direction we must go. We never have agreed.

    Having lost control of the presidency and Congress, the Democrats and progressives have nothing left but their voices. The soonest they can stop the attack will be the 2018 midterm elections.

    In the interim, the protests invigorate the supporters, educate and expand the Democratic electorate, and put the GOP representatives on notice that they are about to lose their sweet gigs if they consistently vote against the people (perhaps saving Social Security and Medicare.) Let them decide how much they are willing to risk for Trump, Ryan, and McConnell.

    If the opposition has made their intentions abundantly clear, has all the advantages, and has you in their crosshairs, you better learn to play defense. Diplomacy is over. Philosophizing is over. Appeasement is stupid. The fight is on.

    • No argument from me in the immediate, but think in the long term we all must find a way to be more civil to each other. I am a realist, just like to have dreams too.

  2. “It is also about reducing the people’s voice in our democracy”
    This happens, as you rightfully state, through limited or specially targeted educational funding. It also occurs through restriction of the voting franchise. Thank you, Linda, for another insightful analysis. I always enjoy your postings.

  3. Linda,
    You ask, “What was the original wound?” You answer, “I think it would have to be the civil rights movement that so significantly wounded our national psyche.” I suspect you don’t mean that literally. I think you meant the original wound was the denial of civil rights that led to the civil rights movement.
    Bill Astle

  4. good government liberalism dancing on the head of a pin. this feel good comment is “safe” and won’t make good government liberal democrats feel uncomfortable. Malcolm X statement “by any means necessary!” make good government liberals uncomfortable. they would prefer to be whining punching bags at least that safe. kavenaugh got upset when the dreamer kids blocked the road to the trump rally. that wasn’t “safe good government liberalism.” kavenaugh and me understand one another and what it takes to win.

  5. Senator John Kavanagh

    Your last “come together” paragraph would sound more sincere had you not called the president who was just elected pus.

    • Hi John. The reference was only metaphorical, but I realized it might upset some people. Thing is, my comments are not at all meant to be partisan. They are directed at the man, not the party he represents. Hell, I don’t even believe he is a Republican — I see him as a Trumplican…he believes in himself. I hope I’m wrong about him. Thus far though, he’s given me no reason to believe that’s true.

  6. Not a bad analogy, Linda, but I see it differently.

    Allow me to shed a little darkness on the light you tried to shine 🙂

    Trump to me, is not the pus that oozes from an infected wound. After all, we can wipe that away with a tissue and flush it down the toilet. I’d love to flush Trump down the toilet (hair first), but I don’t see that happening.

    Metaphorically, I’d say Trump is more like the cancer that results from decades of neglect (tobacco, overeating, lack of exercise). We gorged ourselves on tax cuts. We addicted ourselves to fossil fuels. And we failed to maintain our body of laws. When the electoral college broke down a century ago, we didn’t repair it. When our political system evolved into a two-party duopoly, we failed to remedy it.

    So, it’s time for surgery, and then a round or two of chemo. I’ll leave it to others to complete the analogy.