Tuesday, November 22, 2005

America, Meet America

So many of the issues that seem to polarize this country are from opposite ends of the spectrum, all black or all white. I'm not talking about race. I'm talking about the realm of ongoing debate.

Our national arguments focus on the bedroom:
Pro-choice vs. Not
Gay rights vs. Fix Yourself

We can't seem to agree how to relate to the rest of the planet:
American the Exceptional vs. We Are the World
We Have Dominion Over Nature vs. Environmentalists

We disagree whether the government should care about our health:
Healthcare for Everyone vs. For Those Who Can Afford It

We are schizophrenic about our image:
America portrayed in John Wayne movies vs. America the Imperialist

Some of us are even confused about real science vs. religious theory:
Evolutionary Biology vs. ‘Intelligent Design’

You get the idea. We don't take easily to change, especially to ideas that 'seemed right' to the generations before us. Start wrapping it up with religious interpretation as so many like to do, and it gets even more complicated.

We All Come From People Who Didn't Like It At Home

Let's also bear in mind that if you live here, you are probably descended from people who weren't able to follow the status quo. They left home because they were unhappy, poor and had little hope for the future. They came here determined to carve out something new. Yet somehow in the last twenty years or so we have forgotten our historical origin.

The early settlers came here to practice beliefs different from the ones forced on them at home. (Pause for irony). To found a community open to freedom of living their lives as they believed.

A Country Built On An Unproven Idea

The Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War were based on freedom to live in the manner that the individual chose, not politicians and religious leaders. Not every founding father was a Christian. Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson easily come to mind.

And we have something new, something different than the world had ever seen before. A nation of bold ideals and endless opportunities. Yet a people who spend an enormous amount of time squabbling among themselves. Our nation and its direction are an ongoing and evolving process.

The Holy Religious Settlers Were Not Always Kind To Others

There was once a time when most people believed that Native Americans were inferior beings. They were lied to, murdered, robbed and mistreated. Very few voices spoke up in their defense. Now most of us are ashamed at how the early settlers of this country treated them.

Equal Justice For All Has Been An Ongoing Project

Our constitution made Negroes into a fraction of a person. A bloody Civil War was followed by years of lynching and Ku Klux Klan tirades. A few generations ago the majority of the country, but especially the south, was pulled kicking and screaming into the world of Civil Rights for blacks. Now such rights are almost accepted by everyone. I imagine that blacks living through that period could barely dream of the way that things are today.

Even Though We Thought We Made The World Safe For Democracy After World War II, We Must Have Been Insecure About It And Afraid That The Russians Really Won

Around the 1950's Communism became the great evil, and remained the giant boogeyman for at least a generation. There were the horrible 'witch hunts' of the McCarthy era in which so many lives were destroyed. The constant fear of nuclear annihilation so many of us grew up believing could happen in a heartbeat. And then that whole house of cards went tumbling down.

Somebody Thought It Would Be Fun To Replace Dominoes With Real Countries And Said A War Would Stop The Dominoes From Falling

Then there is the huge scar of Viet Nam, the last time we went to war for the wrong reasons with no real plan to win. One of the saddest times in our history, and a lesson most of us thought that we wouldn't repeat.

When 'W' Has His Conversations With God He Must Have Asked Him To Be Mean To Us Because Everybody Makes Fun Of Him

In addition to the issues that are tearing us apart, there is plenty of other bad news right now. We have had natural disasters and poor government support. Clean up and repair from Hurricane Rita will cost more than it should have because our aging infrastructures have gone to ruin. Imagine if the levy's design in New Orleans had been the correct one. The amount of money and lives that might have been saved.

Our economy is on the ropes and our buying power has diminished. The middle class is fading away. The economy is Asia is just starting to stir and it is going to have an enormous impact on all of our lives.

The Only Thing Real About The War(s) Manufactured By Draft Dodgers Is The Number Of People Injured and Dead

Today we are fighting a terrible war in two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan. American men and women are dying, those that survive are often horrifically injured. Iraquis and Afghanis are dying to in numbers that we are only allowed to guess. We don't discuss the Afghan war as much, perhaps because many still feel there was a glimmer of justification to destroy the Taliban who had sheltered Osama Bin Laden.

There is no doubt any more that the forecast for Iraq's future is gloomy. We are to blame. Iraquis today still do not remotely have the goods and services they did prior to the war. And remember that was after they suffered from all the years of sanctions. We definitely went in there without a plan, and were overly optimistic about our reception there. We can’t seem to resolve it and few people disagree any more that we need to get out. It's a matter of how and when.

Maybe We Will Get There In Baby Steps

Is there hope for the future? I would like to think that we still have a chance to make some changes and live up to our ideals. All of the historic problems I’ve mentioned were resolved through a combination of time and cultural growth. I’m not belittling their depth, but celebrating our possible progress.

So much of what really happens is in that in-between place of compromise. Recently Congressman Murtha, long time supporter of the military asked for a plan regarding Iraq and our troops there. Yes, the clamor on the Hill was deafening. But the point to remember is that this war hawk moved in a different direction. The response of support for him across the country has been deafening. May it be the first big stride towards a real and lasting peace.

Earlier this year Cindy Sheehan, mother of a soldier who died in Iraq, made headlines camping out on the road to W's vacation ranch. It couldn't have been fun sleeping on the side of the road. She didn't know ahead of time the overwhelming support she would receive. But she took a step toward Bush, giving him an opportunity to heal some of the wounds this war has caused. Sadly he didn't respond.

Neither of these is as powerful as the Rosa Parks story, re-told so often this fall in honor of her death. But hers is an example of one person taking a few steps in a direction that had to be scary. But in the end was a catalyst for major change.

I hope all of us take steps now to move toward each other, instead of staying in our little corners of ‘truth’. Because distractions and disagreements over a myriad of bedroom related actions---gay lifestyle, abortion choice, sex education--are really just one group of people trying to force their beliefs on someone else.

Arguments over who we are as a people--whose values should be shoved down everyone's throats--are diverting us from growing. As a culture, as a people, as a society, and most of all as an economic force in the world.

As Abraham Lincoln once said: “A house divided against itself cannot stand." Let’s stop focusing on our differences. America, meet America. There is nothing clear in our history, or in our future.
We will stumble and fumble and make terrible mistakes. But if we try to live up to our ideals future historians may judge us a success.

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