Friday, September 24, 2004

What is America?


I'm asking this question because I don't think I know anymore. There used to be a time when I believed The United States of America was a Grand Experiment, a Beacon of Hope to an ailing world. Yes, we Americans were callous at times, oblivious most of the time to what was happening in the rest of the world, even rude in our ignorance. But we were essentially good. Not just to others throughout the world, but good to each other. We tried to help our fellow citizens; we tried to make our country better. That, it seems, is no longer something which we care about.

There are intelligent people from many different walks of life who now believe we no longer owe any responsibility to our fellow citizens. We no longer need to take care of the weak nor need to try to improve the lot of the impoverished. "I have mine - to hell with yours" seems to be the new American motto. If you can't cut it, whatever that means, you should just up and die and leave a space for someone who can. So this is who we have become.

And these arguments are not put forth honestly so that the rest of us can look at their merits and debate them; they are driven into our heads as polemics about lowering taxes, about accountability, about responsibility. And I'm left to wonder, who is more responsible: A a single working mother of two who has two jobs, tries to get the best education for her children that she can and tries to keep them out of trouble; or the son of a well-heeled businessman and politician who has never worked an honest day in his life and has relied on the connections that his family's wealth has provided for him to destroy the very fabric of our nation?

But the rest of us are not without guilt in this matter. We let these dishonest people control the debate. We let them tell us what they want to talk about and let them demand our attention. And we let their surrogates do the same. Right-wing ideologues who preach hate and fear and loathing of other Americans, these other Americans not being rich enough, not malleable enough, not willing enough to follow blindly.

I'm sure if anyone reads this, they will say "Oh, look - He blames the Right; He must be a Liberal!" The question is, how can you be an American and not be a liberal? How can you propound ideas of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness without having a liberal-bent. These principles come from Liberal philosophy. These principles encourage equality of opportunity for everyone, not just those to the manor born, or those who have pretensions of being to the manor born. But that is not what happens on the Right.

Their argument is and always has been, that we have it, you don't, and we see no reason to give you the chance to achieve. Theirs is a zero-sum game. If you succeed, it must mean that someone else has failed. How else to explain the world. The concept of unlimited opportunity is beyond their limited perception. That is why it is always "us" vs "them." They cannot conceive that all of us can succeed if we band together and work for the common good. In their world-view, there will always be only a certain number of winners and many, many more losers.

So they lie and badger and harass the rest of us. And they run our institutions and complain about being treated unfairly by the very institutions they run. And the great majority remains befuddled. We must not let them win. If we let them win, we are done. That will be the end of America and the very dream we have worked so hard to preserve.

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