Wednesday, March 24, 2010

One Nation, Under God...DIVISIBLE

Growing up in the 1960s, every morning in school we had to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by the singing of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.” We would stand by our desks with our right hand over our hearts – every single day. There are so many words in those two pieces that simply don’t work anymore. First, in the Pledge, we would say, in part, “…one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” By the late sixties we found out that our country was indeed divisible, and liberty and justice were relative terms. Today, there is controversy brewing even over the use of “God” in the Pledge. Citizens coast to coast are questioning the concept of liberty in America, throwing around words like socialism and dictatorship. And justice? Well, according to some Americans, justice has everything to do with your skin color, sexual orientation and/or socio-economic status. America is divided right now unlike any other time in history, except for the Civil War in the 19th century and the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. We are fractured. We all know it, even though we go on about our daily lives as though we were still that America that pledged and sang every morning.

After the divisive health care debate last week, the façade that we have counted on for so long began to crumble. Here are a few recent examples of how divisible our country has become:
• Item: John Lewis, U.S. Representative from Georgia’s 5th District, who once marched his heart out with Dr. Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery, and who was viciously beaten by police (left) for doing so, was once again victimized last week. On his way into the Capitol, Tea Party members demonstrating against the soon-to-be-voted on health care bill yelled, “Kill the bill, nigger.”
• Item: Barney Frank, U.S. Representative from Massachusetts’s 4th District, distinguished as one of the first openly gay members of the House, was called “homo” and “faggot” as he approached the Capitol.
• Item: An Alabama man, Mike Vanderboegh, who refers to himself as a “militia leader” is openly leading an effort to break windows in Democratic party headquarters coast to coast. The movement has succeeded so far in doing so in Arizona, Kansas, Rochester, NY and Niagara Falls. On his blog, he writes, “Break them and run to break again. Break them under cover of night. Break them in broad daylight. Break them and await arrest in willful, principled civil disobedience. Break them with rocks. Break them with slingshots. Break them with baseball bats.”
• Item: Reportedly, as many as 10 members of Congress have requested added security for their homes and offices. Some have received death threats. Watch:

• Item: Rep. Louise Slaughter, of Niagara Falls, one of those whose office windows were broken, reports that a voice mail was left on her office phone threatening to “assassinate” the children of lawmakers who vote in favor of the health care bill.

The anger many Americans feel right now is often exacerbated by talk radio hosts, such as Rush Limbaugh. Recently, Limbaugh said some surgeries cost about the same thing as buying a new car, so if one can buy a car he should be able to pay for his own operation, without health insurance. He also told a caller who said he broke his wrist and had to pay $6,000 out of pocket for treatment, “Then you shouldn’t have broken your wrist.” Entertainer Glenn Beck called last weekend’s vote on health care reform an “affront to God,” because it was being conducted on a Sunday. Beck, of course, is the one who recently told his listeners to leave their churches if they were being encouraged to support social or economic justice. He invoked communism and Nazism in his rhetoric.

Sean Hannity has been getting himself so worked up over healthcare reform lately that he appears ready for his first stroke. Of course, this comes just as it was revealed that his and Oliver North’s charity, Freedom Alliance, is spending inordinate amounts of its donations on travel, perks and accommodations, and donating only 12% of its revenues to the children of wounded soldiers education funds.

What we are witnessing now is much like what we saw during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, except with a high tech element. Talking heads are rallying their troops to fight the government in the name of freedom. Those among them without health insurance have yet to tell us how their medical expenses will be paid if they get sick. They will expect to be promptly and well-treated in emergency rooms coast to coast, without insurance. Further, even if their objection to national health insurance were valid, we have yet to hear from them any viable alternatives. All we have heard so far is that Americans should have a choice whether to be insured or not. If a grass roots movement is to gather true steam, it needs substance. It cannot go the distance on hate alone.

When supporters of health care reform point out that auto insurance is required of every driver, opponents say we are comparing apples and oranges. Are we? I think not. When supporters of health care reform point out that Medicare and Social Security could be considered just as socialist as the new reform, the opponents do not seem to respond. But they do expect their Medicare reimbursement and social security checks to arrive on time.

We are indeed a nation divided by ideology, temperament and intolerance. Racism is boiling, anti-government rhetoric has turned threatening and vile, and grass roots organizers are protesting the very initiatives that were designed to allow them to enjoy their freedom, not rob them of it. Violence, death threats and uncivil disobedience notwithstanding, however, this too shall pass. Just as the violence that rocked urban streets in the late 1960s in opposition to racial equality passed, this will pass. Still, how many broken bodies and spirits will lie in its wake is yet to be seen.

1 comment:

Admin said...

Nice post Paul. It's disturbing to see how health care reform could turn to such hatred and insanity. What is more disturbing is that so much of that is fueled by ignorance and fear. I'd be willing to bet that many of these people already had certain conspiracies and hatred boiling in them for years, even long before the current president took off. I'm also pretty convinced that many of these same people don't even know what socialism is. I think certain pundits, fear and paranoia just happen to set them off. And their actions likely inspire other nutjobs. Fortunately, most people, even if they strongly resent the bill, go to work, move on with their lives and vent their anger at the voting booth.