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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

THE UNTIED STATES OF AMERICA


No, folks, I didn't misspell my title. This is no longer "the United States of America," tied together by common values and beliefs. We have in fact become the UNTIED States of America, a disunited and fractious country divided on a number of levels. Allow me to explain.

Once upon a time, this country had a common purpose. It championed free speech, and was governed by a set of laws formulated by elected representatives and passed into law with the President's signature. Along the way, this proposed law (a bill) was analyzed, discussed, and debated, until enough support could be garnered for its passage. When this level of legislative support was achieved, the bill was passed, signed, and it became law. This process was conducted in an open and honest manner, with legitimate two-way discussion. People more or less went along with those passed laws, even if they didn't like them. Those opposed to the legislation conducted themselves as a loyal opposition, going along to get along until changes could be made later. If enough people were tremendously opposed to a law once passed, they challenged it in court, or, at the next election, they elected a new set of representatives or a new President, so that the unpopular law could be altered or repealed. The country was united in the cause of free speech and the principle of compromise to ensure that all voices could be heard and that due consideration could be granted to all participants of a discussion. That was the United States. That was in the good old days. Regrettably, that country, and those days, are now gone.

This Independence Day, consider how much we have changed in the past several decades. Think about how polarized the country has become. Think about how civility in public discussion, and how a loyal opposition has completely disappeared. Polar extremes exist where civilized opposzition had existed previously. One group, the ultra-conservative far right (composed of conservative Republicans, Tea Party groups, and outright crackpots) rant and rave at those whom they oppose, hurling insults, telling blatant lies, making wild, unsubstantiated claims, and shout down political opponents rather than listening and trying to find compromise. They hoist banners incorrectly comparing the President with Adolf Hitler, Nazis, and communists. THEY STONEWALL AND DELIBERATELY BLOCK DISCUSSION AND PASSAGE OF NEARLY EVERY SINGLE PIECE OF LEGISLATION. This is un-American behavior. Is this the type of discourse our Founding Fathers envisioned? Absolutely not!

This Fourth of July, think about how intolerant many of us have become. Think about the religious right, its influence on the modern Republican Party, and its rigid, doctrinaire stances on the role of our government and the types of officials they think we should elect. Mull over how many of these people would like us to become a theocracy, with a Christian-values litmus test being required of all who hold or seek office, rather than a democracy, which is what we have had all along, with a separation of church and state. Is a Christian-values requirement what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote our Constitution? Definitely not.

As you view the 4th of July fireworks this year, think if our original Boston Tea Party colonists had the complete elimination of taxes in their intent, or the establishment of organized, armed militias in place to force the government they would end up creating to do their will at gunpoint? We already know this was certainly not the case.


HAD that been their original intent, why, then, did they allow Congress to pass a liquor tax and President George Washington to send troops in to quell Pennsylvania's Whiskey Rebellion over it in 1792? Some of today's Tea Party types question the federal government's right to levy taxes or enforce its directives. Are these teabaggers correct, or was George Washington and our early Congress right to establish taxes, enforce passed laws, and protect the power of the federal government? I'm quite certain most rational people know the proper answer, and they do NOT agree with today's teabaggers!!

Today's ultra-conservative Republican Party and its Tea Party splinter group are malcontents and subversives who are twisting fact and history to justify and legitimize their own errant version of what the American Revolution of 1776 was all about. They have recast the Boston Tea Party into having been a revolt against taxes rather than what it actually was: a revolt against being governed without representation by an unelected king from across the sea. Since they are in such strong opposition and even encourage insurrection against our existing government, which DOES allow them representation and IS elected, are they not being UNpatriotic rather than patriotic? Aren't Republican Texas Governor Rick Perry's threats of secession, and Republican Representative Michele Bachmann's cries for revolution, acts of treason? Urging defection from, or calling for the overthrow of, an existing government simply because there aren't enough representatives in it who vote the way you'd like isn't being patriotic, as the teabaggers claim. What it actually is, in reality, is being childish, selfish, and insolent. The raging voices of the right, spewing lies and hatred, are not offering ties that bind or a solution to our problems. They offer, instead, a breaking of ties devoid of any solution. I hope voters will take this into account in November!

Our country has become very self-centered in recent decades. Ronald Reagan and subsequent conservatives have fueled the fire of self-centeredness with constant demands for tax cuts and insinuations that the government is "stealing" our money. They say that the country is worse off for the government having acted on behalf of the needy. This, of course,is patent nonsense! The many millions of elderly helped by Social Security and Medicare, as well as the large numbers of poor who have received Medicare and even educational assistance belie this nasty conservative allegation. That these programs even came into being at all is strong evidence that free-market capitalism by itself very often fails to meet the needs of ordinary citizens and that government intervention is a definite necessity. The conservatives have also incorrectly and very unjustly characterized the underprivileged as worthless loafers who are parasites sucking everyone's personal finances dry through taxation and social programs. They have wrongly attacked and cast government attempts to help the poor and underprivileged as being actions designed to steal from the rich and middle class, which is nothing mre than a cynical attempt to make the poor even greater outcasts of society than they already are. When Michele Bachmann (and others like her) decry any attempt by government to level the economic playing field as being an undesirable "redistribution of wealth", she very ignorantly overlooks the fact that Reagan's and George W. Bush's tax cuts funneled billions of dollars upward, into the hands of the already filthy-rich. She also ignores the fact that wealthy corporations and CEOs have long been freezing worker wages and exporting jobs to slave labor markets overseas, a DEFINITE redistribution of wealth in favor of the rich who do not need or deserve any more money! People like this are turning us into a culture of "me first" and "to hell with you." There is growing intolerance for divergent viewpoints. There is growing incivility, and an increasing geographical division. The South neither understands, nor evidently cares about, the industrialized Northeast anymore, and vice versa. The Midwest views the South, Northeast, and far West with disdain. The wide-open West has no time for Washington or those in Eastern inner city slums. Fundamentalist Christians have no time for non-believers or those who don't imterpret theology just as they do. They hate Muslims, and are also demanding the establishment of a near-theocracy in government. Social conservatives have no time for libertines or those who deviate from their viewpoint. Claiming to be pro-life, some even murder abortion doctors.

I do not believe our Founding Fathers envisioned what we are becoming today: a self-absorbed, ideologically-split nation of polar opposites. Their vision was one of free, honest, and open discussion, and action being taken by means of cooperation, mutual respect, and MAJORITY RULE. They gave us a Constitution to live by, and also a Bill of Rights providing for amendments and necessary future changes to that Constitution.
Progressives through the years, notably Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, and LBJ, have striven to correct injustices such as slavery and monopoly and lack of opportunity and civil rights. They have brought about much needed change which has expanded opportunity and made it possible for all, not just an elite wealthy few, to have a good quality standard of living. They did this by using the federal government as a catalyst for these beneficial changes. But such an approach is under direct attack today by far-right elements which comprise the Tea Party and control the Republican Party. This is not at all in spirit with what our original founders intended. To truly recapture and once more implement what they had envisioned, there MUST be more open and honest discussion going forward, along with more civility, less obstruction, and more understanding going. As you celebrate this July 4, remember that our wise founders laid the groundwork for a tied together, yet diverse and malleable, UNITED States of America, not the UNTIED States of America we are disintegrating into thanks to the incivility and stubborn rigidity of the far right.

19 comments:

Lisa G. said...

Maybe I'm showing my age, but I don't remember when politics were civil (I was in college when Reagan was elected). I think the last decent Republican president we had was Ford. I don't think this is what the Founding Fathers had in mind AT ALL and they are spinning in their graves as to what we have done to this country. The "me first" aspect that permeates the right is disgusting and abhorrent, yet people still elect these assholes.

Excellent piece Jack - this is one of your best posts.

Beach Bum said...

I have tried to downplay the Red state/Blue state divide and convince myself that when you burned away the political nonsense some shade of purple would appear. But I just don't see it and you are perfectly right Jack, I will go as far and say the United States does not really exist anymore, that only a zombie-like inertia keeps the fifty states together.

Understand I was raised in the South but I very often look upon other Southerners like I might a primitive tribesman from deep in the Amazon. I have next to nothing in common with that person and cannot imagine how that person came to their point of view on the world.

Playing devil's advocate here now but in some cases I do feel this political and cultural disconnect goes both ways and that extremists on both sides willfully aggravate the situation. (PETA comes to mind as a quick example.) For the sake of brevity I will stop my comment here.

Infidel753 said...

I agree with you that much of the country is separated into mutually uncomprehending and hostile camps (though I think there are a lot of uncommitted people who don't belong to any of those camps), but I would disagree that the division is particularly a geographical one.

You can find both liberals and conservatives (or, to cite the division that more concerns me, both seculars and theocrats) in every part of the country, even if the ratio is different in different regions. Quite a lot of the liberals and unconventional thinkers I've known have lived in Georgia, Texas, and especially Florida. My own state of Oregon is pretty blue, but there were enough bigots here to abolish gay marriage in a state-wide referendum several years ago (as in California in 2008).

A Texan friend once told me that if everyone in Texas who was eligible to vote actually voted, it would be a blue state (the black and Hispanic populations there are huge, for one thing). The right-wing know-nothing image reflects a minority that dominates politics because of apathy among others.

We've always had a religious-fundamentalist minority subculture in the US which existed largely in isolation from reality and the mainstream culture, but it didn't participate in politics much until the late 1970s. Since then it's transformed the Republican party, but it was always there. Yes, it's concentrated in the South, but not exclusively Southern.

If anything I hope that these mutually-uncomprehending camps will erode more in the near future. The internet makes it somewhat harder to avoid information from outside the bubble.

Tim McGaha said...

I was about to say that it's not a regional divide as much as it's an urban-rural divide, but Infidel beat me to it. Well done, sir!

@Lisa: Politics has always been a full-contact sport. Cleveland vs. Blaine back in the 19th century was especially nasty. The 2008 campaign was almost gentlemanly by comparison.

Jack Jodell said...

Thank you, Lisa G. Ithink I agree with you on Ford. But if you look at the 1960 JFK-Nixon debates, and even a number of public political pronouncements from the late '50s to mid '60s, you'll see a much more genteel tone being presented (except by the segregationists). I must admit that the antiwar protestors of the Vietnam era weren't always so polite, but they were being brazenly lied to by LBJ and Nixon. Ford conducted himself nicely, as did Barry Goldwater. But once we got into the Nixon/Agnew, Lee Atwater, Karl Rove style of politics, that's where things got really nasty and have increased to this day.Had the right really learned from the excessess of the 1950 Joe McCarthy era, we wouldn't have mouthy lying teabaggers and Rove-types today. Hell, we wouldn't even have Fox "News". But the far right will always be a snide, cynical, and paranoid lot with sharp tongues and rash insinuations, and until they curb their excesses we'll have the uncivil discourse we're plagued with now.
---------------
Beach,
There are most definitely nasty excesses on both ends of the political extreme. Those from the right, though, tend to be more personal and nastier than much of what comes from the left. I like your primitive from the Amazon analogy. There is definitely a kernel of truth in that.

You are a bright beacon surrounded by a sea of darness in SC, Beach. You are always welcome on this page. :-)
---------------
Infidel753,
You have a number of valid points here, and I hope you're right that the internet will help erode some of the sharp divisions we have. I didn't mean to convey that our current divisions are particularly geographical, though, although you must admit that some of the opinions arising from parts of the deep South show a tremendous disconnect from the rest of the country, especially Washington and the northeast. But, for that matter, Washington itself is pretty disconnected. We conscientious Americans have our work cut out for us, don't we? :-)

Jack Jodell said...

Tim,
Thanks for that reminder. FDR was the target of a lot of nasty lying as well, and so was Truman.

Will "take no prisoners" Hart said...

"Ma ma, where's my pa? He's gone to the White House, ha ha ha."

Jack Jodell said...

There go those nasty Republicans, picking on President Cleveland again! :-)
Great knowledge of historical trivia, Will!

TomCat said...

The demise of a loyal opposition has only occurred during the Obama administration. Most of Bush's policies/appointees were adopted/confirmed with bipartisan support. It became frayed in his second term as more and more evidence came to light that the GOP was illegally using the organs of government to establish permanent control, a goal that may well have achieved had not their ambition been overtaken by incompetence and greed. Thwarted in 2008, the K Street project dead, the economy collapsing, the GOP has resorted to all the tactics you listed in a desperation move to regain power and establish the permanent regime they barely missed.

The danger that they succeed is still quite real, because corporations have been given all the rights of individuals with none of the responsibilities, and money has been equated with speech.

Wonderful piece, Jack.

Jack Jodell said...

Wonderful comment, TomCat. VERY well put, and totally true!

mud_rake said...

Jack writes, Think about the religious right, its influence on the modern Republican Party, and its rigid, doctrinaire stances on the role of our government and the types of officials they think we should elect.

In a lily-white suburb of Toledo yesterday there was a gathering of the Tea Party crowd- all 160 of them- and the rally opened with a 5-minute long prayer followed by government-bashing speeches.

I think that this knot of dullards ought to find an island somewhere in the Pacific and take it over so that it could establish their Theocratic homeland.

I'd help finance their journey!

Jack Jodell said...

mud_rake,
I'm with you on that one, and they can't go soon enough or far enough away to suit me!

jadedj said...

This is the most right-on 4th of July post EVER. With the exception of regional profiling, which is pointed out by Infidel753, this came directly from my brain, and what I have been thinking for some time. Excellent!

Marc McDonald said...

Great, well-written piece, Jack. Lots of good points.
Maybe I'm just a pessimist. But I'm convinced that the polarization of our country is just going to continue to get worse.
Each new crop of HateWing radio talkers tries to out-do the previous generation by being even more extreme.
HateWing radio, as well as the Far-Right Web, Wingnut blogs and Fox News just continue to get more and more extreme.
Maybe I'm biased, but I simply don't see a Left-Wing equivalent to all this. I know the likes of DailyKOS are regularly attacked as "extremist" by the Right, but frankly, sites like that seem pretty mainstream to me, outside of maybe the occasional anonymous commenter (and keep in mind, anyone, including right-wing mischief-makers, can make extremist comments).
I am fearful that we are headed toward another 1960s-like round of political violence against Democratic leaders.

Jack Jodell said...

Thanks, jadedj. I'm just hoping that eventually the far right will start to head more toward the center, because they're waaaayyyyy out of whack right now!
---------------
Marc,
Thank you. I think we on the left tend to take those on the far right at their word way too often. We need to remember that anyone not 100% in total agreement with them is an extremist, a terrorist, a communist, or worse. These reactionaries have no credibility whatsoever and are so full of irrational hatred and rage that I expect to eventually see them turn on each other. They are, I believe, a painful and wholly unnecessary anamoly of our history, incapable of leadership or governance.

TomCat said...

Thanks Jack.

Manifesto Joe said...

Sadly, I think just basic stupidity has an awful lot to do with our current divisions.

I just had a commenter on my site who said that John Kerry, claiming to have "won all those medals in Vietnam" was "proven to be a fraud" and then the American people "re-elected President Bush."

I cut and pasted a section of a Wikipedia bio that detailed Kerry's actions that resulted in 3 Purple Hearts, a Silver Star and a Bronze Star. Did it just for the record, and because it was easy to do. People like that are too stupid to reason with, and they are legion.

John said...

Mr. Jodell,

I visit your site often, and comment rarely. The reason I fail to comment most of the time is because I often find you too dogmatic to agree with and too well-informed to debate. However, we have one thing in common. We are both proud liberals.

I just wanted to acknowledge this article, because it is so well done. I found myself cutting and pasting many sections for my "personal catalogue of tidbits."

Very well done.

Sincerely,
J

Gwendolyn H. Barry said...

Jack, as usual, I learn and grow when I visit you and I spend... a lot of time.

I also can somewhat align to BB's commentary via the south... here in FL it's just as , ah, dumbed down population wise... even with all these transplants. Wanna be $. or just bubba dumb. I may have grown up based in south FL but my education and many years I lived in northeast. I had to come home to hear that there is nothing dumber than a NY democrat. :-) a smile? I love FL. My neighbors are really pretty liberal ... around me. We did turn it blue in the last major election... I have hope still.