Can We Heal?
The city of Tampa is being inundated, not with flood waters from Tropical Storm Isaac but, thanks to this week’s Republican National Convention, with conventioneers, the press, protesters and counter-protesters, and the occasional Democratic Party convention-crasher, perhaps a first in my experience of watching politics, since tradition and decorum previously dictated that each party yielded the stage to the other during their respective conventions.
I confess, however, that while I may watch the acceptance speeches of the two candidates after the fact, I will mostly be tuning it out.
It’s not that I don’t care. I’ve been keeping up with the 2012 campaign at all levels, but my mind and heart have been looking ahead to the aftermath. I am not optimistic about the state of the nation after this election, regardless of the outcome.
I am convinced the divisions this campaign is creating among us will leave what little cohesiveness we have as a nation, if any, in tatters.
I previously asked whether a nation like ours, build upon a common creed rather than geography, language, ethnicity or culture, will long survive when we seem to agree on almost nothing. While a recent Pew Research report revealed the highest level of polarization on “values and beliefs” that they’ve measured in the 25 years they’ve been surveying the American people, we don’t need a pollster or demographer to tell us how divided we are.
Just read the comments that follow just about any article on politics, politicians or policy. Or better yet, take a tour of Facebook or Twitter and see if you don’t emerge from it thoroughly disheartened at the poison we’re spewing at each other in cyberspace.
Writer Chuck Thompson has a best-selling book titled, “Better Off Without ‘Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession,” in which he ridicules the southern United States, highlighting only people and circumstances that validate his prejudice, and suggests they should be allowed to go their own way and leave the more enlightened citizens to run what’s left of America.
Another best seller? David Limbaugh’s “The Great Destroyer: Barack Obama’s War on the Republic.” The era of good feeling it’s not.
We don’t even agree on what life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness mean anymore.
To one side, life defined by the laws of nature and nature’s God, and all life, especially the lives of the weak and voiceless, should be protected from conception to natural death. To the other, life is defined by man, and its protection is contingent on convenience, quality, suitability or utility to society as determined by the strong ruling over the weak.
To one side, liberty is freedom within the rule of law, which applies equally to all people. To the other, liberty is license to do as one pleases, conflicts and consequences be damned.
To one side, the pursuit of happiness is the opportunity to use your talents, industry and knowledge to advance as far as they will take you. To the other, the pursuit of happiness means everyone should arrive at roughly the same place regardless of skill or will, and the fruits of everyone’s labor should be reallocated to ensure that outcome.
When the smokes clears on November 7, 2012, and only one person is left standing, either the president or the president-elect will have inherited a nation that is split as far as the east is from the west.
If President Obama is reelected, how insincere will his unity speech sound after he and his surrogates spent months mocking, demonizing, harassing, and trash-talking not just Government Romney or Rep. Ryan, but the people who supported them?
When they have repeatedly called us racists, greedy moneychangers, misogynists, homophobes, or self-absorbed business owners, just to mention a few charges levied against us, and laid everything that’s wrong with America at our feet, how predisposed will we be to reconciliation?
When, in their universe, we’re waging a “war on women,” or we’re “gonna put y’all back in chains,” or they’re lecturing us that “at some point, you’ve made enough money,” or “you didn’t build that” – shall I continue? – how likely are we to let bygones be bygones, or to accept the old standby, “It’s just politics,” shake hands and move on?
Frankly, how likely is it that the people who devoted their lives to our total degradation and destruction are going to respond graciously after a victory?
If Governor Romney wins, the lines of demarcation the president has drawn between us will become even brighter. Cries of racism and vote buying by the evil millionaires and billionaires will ring out, and the losers will evoke memories of Jim Crow and back-alley abortions, mass soup kitchens, or fascist parades on the National Mall, or whatever demagoguery suits their purposes.
The president’s celebrity-besotted public, the sycophants in the entertainment and sports industries, and a press corps that even veteran journalists Jake Tapper and Mark Halperin believe is in the tank for President Obama, couldn’t care less about his policies, his background, his influences, his intentions or anything else against which presidents and presidential contenders that preceded him were routinely evaluated.
His presidency has come dangerously close to the “cult of the individual” described by Karl Marx, where he cannot be questioned or challenged as a public servant, but must rather be revered as an enlightened sovereign over the ignorant masses. Because of this adoration, should they witness their American idol go down in defeat, they will lash out at any hand extended to them.
The bottom line is that whoever wins will take over a nation aflame, and it will be practically impossible to govern. Where is the great man or woman of state who can put out the fire? Where is the leader who can bring us healing?
In my opinion, the answer to that question is in the mirror. I don’t believe leadership and governance have to come from the top down. In fact, as Americans we should reject the notion that some distant king or kingdom exists to rule over us. From the beginning, we were built to govern ourselves, and the sole responsibility of government was to provide the legal, regulatory and security framework within which we could practice self-governance.
We let go of the reins, however, and government was not only all too glad to snatch them from us, it has indoctrinated us and our children to believe it should be holding the reins in the first place. If there is one benefit from the crisis of unity facing us in the months and years ahead, it is that the inability of Washington to govern may spur us to reclaim the mantle of self-governance initially bestowed upon us more than two centuries ago.
Some will say that our world is too complex, and our problems too big, for us to manage them at the local level, but this is nonsensical. If anything, bringing solutions down to the local level makes it more likely that needs will be met, because those needs will have a name and a face, and we will know them intimately enough to know exactly what to do in order to arrive at a solution.
Not only is a big problem reduced to several small ones that are easily digestible at the local level, the personal investment in neighbor helping neighbor will restore our sense of community nationwide.
Once we’ve reacquainted ourselves with the effectiveness, cohesion and fundamental goodness of individuals coming together to solve problems through “voluntary associations,” to quote Alexis de Tocqueville, or civil society as we call it today, perhaps we won’t be so quick to surrender our power to institutions too distant to know or care about us. Ironically, it will take individuals, families, churches and communities, working things out at the local level all across America, to eventually make us a nation again.